Montgomery mayor calls occupational tax bill ‘a power grab in its worst form’

Updated: Feb. 19, 2020 at 4:01 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed spoke Wednesday afternoon about the city’s recently passed occupational tax ordinance.

Reed spoke to reporters about Tuesday night’s vote, saying it was conducted in support a city’s ability to govern. This is in response to a bill making its way through the state legislature, which, if passed into law, could repeal the new ordinance.

“[House Bill 147] would prevent any city from levying an occupational tax after Feb. 1,” he said. “That is a problem for a city like Montgomery which seeks to bring in revenue to better support our first responders, to pay our policemen, and our firemen, more money that they deserve, to provide more benefits that they deserve, and to give them the equipment and technology that they deserve in order to keep us safe.”

Reed said the city was pressed into Tuesday night’s vote by a legislature that does not think city officials know what’s best for their citizens.

“That is legislative overreach in its purest form,” he said. “It’s a power grab in its worst form.”

Reed said bringing in revenue is an important part of growth for any city. Montgomery, Reed said, is not only the state’s capital but is central Alabama’s economic capital. He said the region has lost jobs and suffered from the stagnation of economic growth and opportunity.

“We cannot compete with cities in this state or cities in other states for jobs and economic opportunities that we need to grow this economy and provide the services on the current budget,” Reed said.

Reed said the legislature did not talk to the city about its revenue shortfalls; instead, it blindsided them with the bill.

“They didn’t think they had to. They didn’t think they needed to do that,” he said. “And that’s a problem.”

Reed said they were put in a position where they had to vote on the ordinance after exhausting other options, such as asking the legislature to take the bill off the calendar while city and state leaders discussed other revenue options that might be possible besides an occupational tax.

“I do think if we’d had time maybe we could have come up with some solutions to address these issues,” he said.

Reed said he and the mayors of the 10 largest cities in Alabama will ask state senators to oppose the bill, which has cleared the House and passed a Senate committee Tuesday. He said the city would also consider legal action.

“All options are on the table,” Reed said.

If the legislature’s bill does not become law, Montgomery’s occupational tax would go into effect in 2021. Reed said along with public safety and infrastructure needs, public services such as sanitation will also benefit from revenue generated by the tax.

WSFA 12 News spoke with state lawmakers from Montgomery about the bill. Rep. Charlotte Meadows and Rep. Reed Ingram both voted for the legislation, and they said the city shouldn’t be making a decision that impacts people who live outside the city limits.

“I think it should be illegal across the whole country,” Meadows said. “So that’s just a basic tenet of American democracy that we should not be taxing people who work without their ability to be represented.”

Ingram said the bill is “exactly the same” as a bill that made it through both House and Senate committees, and passed in the Senate, in 2019. He said there was no opposition from Montgomery leaders then.

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