Jefferson Co.'s problems may be yours too

Dr. David Bronner
Dr. David Bronner
Lines develop daily at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Lines develop daily at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Posted by: Eileen Jones - bio | email
Posted by: John Shryock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Intense negotiations are underway in Montgomery and Birmingham as state lawmakers and Jefferson County officials try to resolve that county's major financial crisis.

Lawmakers are considering new occupational tax legislation, but Governor Bob Riley says he's not calling a special session until some "unresolved issues" are cleared up and everyone's on board.

A special session, if called, will cost the Alabama taxpayers at least $110,000, money that goes right out of the state general fund budget. If the session goes the full 12 meeting days it will cost $430,000.

What's happening in Birmingham will also impact everyone in the state. If that county goes belly up it could affect your ability to get a loan or a line of credit.

Lines seem to be the name of the game in Jefferson County, but it's a game that's not a whole lot of fun for the people who live there or anywhere else in this state.

Dr. David Bronner explains it like this:"If for example the good people from Mobile were going up to see Standard and Poors, which happens to be in our building in New York, let's say they want to do a school issue or an issue for something else - a bond issue for sewers in Mobile. Well, the first thing that the people from Standard and Poors would ask them is 'What's going on in your state?'"

Bronner, the head of the multi-billion dollar Retirement Systems of Alabama, which also invests in WSFA 12 News' parent company Raycom Media, says it's important to get at least one of Jefferson County's two huge financial problems solved.

One problem is a seemingly corrupt sewer system which may take time to fix, but the second problem, an occupational tax, is a different story.

"To me it's one of those problems that should have been resolved. It's not that hard. It's not that hard to understand," Bronner explained. He believes an agreement can be reached easily, but there's one big problem.

"In Birmingham in particular you have probably the most confused situation that I've seen in local finance. You've got too many chefs in the kitchen. And you simply can't get anything done without somebody having the financial power to say, 'Ok, this is the way we're going.' You almost have, this is a terrible thing to say, but you almost have too much democracy."

Bronner's solution to Birmingham's problems is very simple. "The citizens ought to take all the politicians, put them in one room and say you're going to stay there until you come up with a compromise, because you have to solve the problem."

Those who are pushing for constitutional reform point to this situation as an example as to why they say home rule is needed. They complain that it's ridiculous for legislators to come to Montgomery from all over the state to solve Jefferson County's problems.

If the governor decides to call a special session, the earliest date it can go into effect is next Monday.

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