Senator Greg Albritton (R-Range) essentially controls the fate of HB183, a bill that enables the Monroe County Commission to hold a referendum to impose a five cents/gallon tax on fuel in Monroe County.
The bill is unique in that it transfers taxing authority on fuel from the legislature to the county commission perpetually. At first read, it doesn’t sound all that bad. If HB183 were to pass, the county commission must first pass a resolution setting the referendum. The resolution would contain the date of the referendum, how much tax (up to five cents/gallon) and the length of time the tax will be imposed (up to five years). Sixty days prior to adopting the resolution, the county commission must publish a list of transportation projects that will be addressed with the tax proceeds and only those projects will be used with the funds.
Ignoring the fact of imposing a new tax itself, that sounds like a reasonable process, right?
A careful reading of the proposed legislation tells another story.
HB183 not only would allow the commission to set this referendum, it conveys authority to set fuel taxes in the county in perpetuity. In other words, if the voters allowed the tax for five years, when that five years is up, the county doesn’t have to go back to the legislature to get additional authority to have another referendum to add another five years to the tax. Additionally, if the referendum were to fail the first time, the commission could hold additional referendums to try and get the tax at some later date without having to go back to the legislature for that authority.
That’s not good. That is really a “back door” home rule attempt.
Thankfully the voters of Monroe County get it. Last night, Senator Albritton held a public hearing in the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville. Over 100 people showed up to voice their opinion on the proposed legislation. In attendance were officials from the County that made a presentation in support of the legislation.
By all appearances, the proposed tax did not have much support in the audience. Loggers, timberland owners and farmers turned out to show the county officials that they were not happy with the proposed tax.
Senator Albritton deserves commendation on several fronts.
First, a public hearing was held. The county commission published notice of the local legislation (as required by law) on February 26, 2015. They formally adopted a resolution supporting the legislation prior to that. At no point in the process, did the county officials think that the public might want some input into this issue and they would never have had to face the public absent Senator Albritton holding this hearing.
Second, Senator Albritton has demonstrated the courage to listen to the voters and make his mind up independent of the pressure placed on him by the local public officials. The reality is that Senator Albritton is the new senator for Monroe County (Senator Hank Sanders also represents the county but was not present at the public hearing- he has already signed off in support of the bill) and his initial reaction is to want to work with the local officials. If he doesn’t support their wishes, it might make for a difficult experience for the next four years. However, he chose to have this public hearing in order to hear from his real constituents…the voters in Monroe County.
Senator Albritton now has a difficult decision to make. Kill the bill and offend the local public officials that support the tax increase or let the bill pass and allow the transfer of taxing authority on fuel from the legislature to the county commission and probably offend the voters of Monroe County along the way.
Whatever decision he makes, we should offer our support to him for approaching this issue in a thoughtful, intelligent manner and for listening to his constituents.
AFA is opposed to this legislation because of its disguised attempt at home rule and the poor policy of approaching rural road and bridge maintenance in a piece-meal fashion. AFA supports a policy that allocates the existing state diesel tax to the counties for this purpose. This tax revenue is now solely at the discretion of the Alabama DOT and does not filter down to the counties.