Alabamans Want New Sales Tax Tossed

     (CN) – A new Alabama law authorizing the Jefferson County Commission to impose a sales and use tax that doesn’t solely benefit the county’s public schools violates the state’s constitution, a group of taxpayers claim in court.
     Andrew Bennett, Mary Moore, John Rogers and William Muhammad filed a class-action suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court, seeking declaratory judgment against Jefferson County.
     Plaintiffs Moore and Rogers are both members of the Alabama State Legislature, while Bennett is a Jefferson County Tax Assessor for the Bessemer Division. All of the plaintiffs are taxpayers subject to paying the sales and use tax in Jefferson County.
     According to the July 20 complaint, the Alabama Legislature recently passed a bill (Act 226) that was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley.
     The local act, which applied only to Jefferson County, gave county lawmakers the right to apply a one-cent sales tax for general purposes.
     The problem with the law, the plaintiffs claim, is that the discretionary tax should only be used to fund education.
     “All net proceeds from the levy of such sales and use taxes are required to be used exclusively for public school purposes, including without limitation, capital improvements and retirement of debt,” the complaint says.
     A Jefferson County ordinance adopted in 2004 created a one-percent education tax, which was intended to be used to fund certain warrants. Act 226 authorized the county to replace that tax with one that would also feed the county’s general fund, as well as the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and the Birmingham Zoo.
     The plaintiffs contend Act 226 is prohibited by the State Constitution, which gives priority to the state’s general law authorizing the levy of a sales and use tax to be used “to provide funds for public school purposes.”
     They are seeking a judgment declaring Act 226 unconstitutional, along with any local ordinances passed under the act. The plaintiffs are represented in the matter by Birmingham attorney David Sullivan.
     Jefferson County, which is home to Birmingham, is the state’s most populous county. Supporters of the act claimed it would provide an economic benefit to the county, which filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
     The one-cent tax was originally enacted to pay off debt related to a $1 billion school construction program, which saw the opening of several new schools in both the Jefferson County and Birmingham school districts.
     According to a recent report from the National Education Association, the State of Alabama ranked 40th in the nation in terms of average expenditure per student for public schools K-12.

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