New lawsuit challenging Jefferson County occupational tax

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Montgomery circuit judge will decide if a lawsuit challenging Jefferson County's new occupational tax is dismissed.

A court hearing was held Monday in Birmingham by Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price, who heard the case because all Jefferson County judges refused to hear the case because they pay the job tax.

Jefferson County lawyers asked Judge Price to throw out the lawsuit, saying the county commission should have received a claim before filing any legal challenge. But attorneys for the taxpayers say that is not the case.

"The law is clear we don't have to do that," Wilson Green said.  "We are challenging the act of the legislature. The commission doesn't have the authority to pass along the validity act of the legislature."

The lawsuit says the new tax, which went into effect in January 2010, says professionals should not be included and the they question if the legislature legally advertised the tax. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins says the county will defend the tax. If the county loses it will lose up to $60 million a year. This could lead again to employees being laid off and long lines at the courthouse again.

"We must defend this," Collins said. "All of you know the importance of this to us."

Collins says the county needs home rule to levy taxes like Birmingham without permission of the legislature to avoid these court battles.

In a related case, the Alabama Supreme Court has yet to decide if the county must pay up to $50 million in refunds to workers who paid the job tax after a judge declared it illegal in 2009.

Judge Price said Monday he will rule soon. If he refuses to throw out the case, the lawsuit is expected to take much of the year.

No other hearing has been set at this time.

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