New occupational tax passes House by narrow vote

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - It was close, but a new occupational tax for Jefferson County cleared the House of Representatives Wednesday.

When lawmakers first cast their votes, supporters of the occupational tax came up short, shocking Jefferson County workers on administrative leave without pay who were on hand to see the vote.

"My heart stopped," said county worker Michael Morrison. "I was wondering, 'could I make a house payment on the unemployment I got?'"

However, Vestavia Hills Republican Jack Williams, who voted no, asked for a reconsideration. So, a second vote was taken, and the bill passed narrowly 17 to 15.

"Well, we have thrown the county a lifeline," said Williams. "I hope they don't turn it into a noose."

Williams was the only Republican in the House to vote in favor of the tax.

"It was real close -- a nail biter," said Rep. John Rogers, (D) Birmingham, the bill's sponsor.

Rogers said some of the lawmakers wanted to go on record against the tax but they wanted it to pass so that more than 1,000 county workers can go back to work.

"It's a vote no one wanted to take," said Rogers. "It's a bad vote for them. Taxes are something bad to pass in the in the Alabama Legislature."

Next up was the accountability bill sponsored by Homewood Rep. Paul DeMarco. The bill will force the Jefferson County Commission to hire a county manager and a comptroller to oversee the county finances. That bill easily passed, 25 to one.

"This is bigger than the occupational tax," said DeMarco. "It's bigger than the occupational tax. It's about years and year of mismanagement."

Birmingham Democrat Mary Moore was the only one to vote against the accountability bill. Moore blasted DeMarco and other republicans for saying yes to a county manager and comptroller but no to the tax.

"Many of my colleagues are not for putting these people back to work," said Moore. "They have no feelings if they are on leave forever."

The bills now head to the state senate. Sen. Jabo Waggoner said he hopes the bill will pass, but was not sure, and Birmingham Sen. Rodger Smitherman opposed the phase-out portion of the job tax if voters reject in 2012.

"It's all up to Sen. Smitherman," said Waggoner. "He controls whats on the agenda."

Wednesday, Rev. Calvin Woods, the head of the Jefferson County Southern Christian Leadership Conference, urged the Alabama Senate to pass the bill.

"So we are saying to all of the county delegation, we are expecting you to support this bill in the interest of the citizens," Woods said. "You were sent to Montgomery to represent the citizens and not yourselves."