On the last day of the session, the Alabama House has pulled a bill from its calendar that would have allowed Jefferson County to reinstate its occupational tax and right itself financially. By killing the bill, the Legislature will have forced the county to make deep and painful cuts, potentially eliminating whole departments.
And several Jefferson County lawmakers voted in favor of killing the bill.
In the mid afternoon, Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, proposed an amendment to the calendar to pull the bill. For about an hour, lawmakers debated the amendment. Rogers and Rep. Arthur Payne, R-Trussville, promised to filibuster the bill if it came up for a vote, and Payne said he would have every bill on the calendar read by the statehouse’s so-called robo-reader to bring the session to a crawl if it were not killed immediately.
Several Jefferson County lawmakers pleaded with their colleagues from around the state to keep the bill on the calendar and at least let it have an up or down vote.
“Please do not kill this bill with a procedural vote,” Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, pleaded.
Rep. Demtrius Newton, D-Birmingham, called the move by Rogers an act of subterfuge.
But despite the pleas from the county delegation, several of the delegation’s members voted with suburban Republicans to kill the bill.
Members voting to kill the bill included Rogers; Payne; Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; Rep. Jim Carns, R-Mountain Brook; and Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Pelham. (Correction Appended Below.)
After the vote, Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos told Rogers that he would have to lay people off because of what Rogers had just done.
Without an occupational tax, Jefferson County will have to reduce its general fund budget to $180 million, about $40 million less than the current budget. County officials have said that, if the bill failed, the county would begin to pair down its staff through waves of layoffs between now and the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
Without a fix from the legislature it is unlikely Jefferson County will be able to emerge from bankruptcy, and the county’s bankruptcy lawyers have even said that the dissolution of county government is a possible, if unlikely, outcome.
Correction: A previous version of this story omitted Rep. Jim Carns from the Jefferson County lawmakers who voted to kill the occupational tax bill.