Joiner: Counties may lose money due to Riley’s tax plan

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2003

If Gov. Bob Riley had worked with county commissioners in developing his tax plan, Amendment One would have a better chance of passing September 9, said Max Joiner, Marengo County commissioner.

With Riley’s plan, the state is reaching down and taking revenue needed by the county for basic services.

County governments as a whole were never consulted as to what the impact of Riley’s plan would be, he said. "Marengo County…has approximately 23,000 people. Fifty percent of those are your major taxpayers…paying the major burden of this tax.

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If Amendment One passes, "employee rates are going to go up for health insurance. Our liability insurance is going up," Joiner said.

Joiner believes Riley should have taken another year and sought out the opinion of county and city leaders in fashioning the tax plan. "They knew they couldn’t get this through the legislature without the big lobbying influence," he said. "Those were the people who were in the mix. The governor didn’t introduce this without the support of some of the big players (including the Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Education Association)."

The current tax proposal makes it even more politically difficult for a county commission to pass additional taxes. The Marengo County Commission is currently considering a one-cent sales tax. "We need to spend our money on our people," Joiner said.

The comprehensive state package could have been developed to help the state, counties and municipalities, and then no governments would have to go back and back again for revenue. "It’s scary for us," Joiner said. "I simply think the people in Marengo County can only afford so many things, and I know we (the county commission) have got some things we’ve got to do just to keep our heads above water.

Reviewing the tax plan in its current form before the voters, Joiner believes the funding for education is specifically identified in the legislation. As a former educator, he doesn’t argue with the needs of state education leaders, and Joiner said it is the most appealing part of Riley’s plan. "Education in Alabama needs to keep pace" with technology and the Alabama Reading Initiative.

Joiner is also very skeptical of the oversight committee that will be enacted as a watchdog group so the money in the tax plan’s large Alabama Excellence Initiative Fund will be used properly. "I think the legislature will probably react very negatively to an oversight committee trying pontificate to them what they are going to do with tax dollars," he said. "I think there is a built-in adversarial relationship."

If Amendment One fails Tuesday, Joiner believes there will be across the board cuts in the state budget, "some minor adjustments in tax collection processes, (and some adjustments in the use of federal dollars that come into the state." Some of the federal funds that trickle down to counties will likely be eliminated, he said.