Success of special session uncertain

Posted by: Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A special session of the Alabama legislature is now underway. The entire elected body -- house and senate members -- were told to show up to help Jefferson county fix its financial crisis.

Jefferson county owes more than $3 billion. It has laid off hundreds of employees and cut many services. A bill to restore the county's recently struck-down occupational tax is at the center of the session.

With the bang of the gavel Monday comes intense negotiations.

"I have never had a bill I've been this nervous about," said Democratic Representative John Rogers of Birmingham.

Its Rogers' bill that would replace the county's occupational tax, providing much needed revenue. But no one knows for sure if it will pass.

"I've got commitments and agreements, but I just don't know how long I can hold it together," Rogers said.

There's also a second proposal up for consideration that would prevent future financial crises in Jefferson County. The accountability bill would create county manager and financial comptroller positions.

"That's very important to the people in Jefferson county because they don't trust the system," said Republic Representative Greg Canfield.

Another unanswered question is whether the two bills will pass in the shortest time possible, as urged by the governor.

Democratic Senator Rodger Smitherman said, "It's probably gonna take a little longer than five days to complete this process."

Governor Riley called the issue "very serious."

He said he's optimistic that the measures will be approved, but he spent Monday meeting privately with lawmakers just to be sure.

"If we come down here and have a spirit of cooperation we can get something put together," Riley said.

The occupational tax would require people who work in Jefferson county to pay about a half-percent of their salaries to the government. But in a few years, voters could decide to reduce it or even eliminate it.

The governor also decided Monday to allow two unrelated bills to be considered in the special session -- one that would extend unemployment benefits by 20 weeks and one that would clarify how school systems can use economic stimulus funds.

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