State Reps: We want to hear from public

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

The 1-cent sales tax approved by members of the Marengo County Commission on Tuesday isn’t a done deal, according to the two men responsible for levying the tax.

State Reps. Bobby Singleton and Thomas Jackson — both of whom represent parts of Marengo County — want to see details of the plan before they ask Montgomery politicians to approve the tax.

“Just because [the commission] passed a resolution doesn’t mean we’re not going to hold public hearings,” said Singleton, D-Greensboro.

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During Tuesday morning’s County Commission meeting, members voted 4-1 to pass a resolution that would levy a permanent 1-cent sales tax on the people of Marengo. Passage of that resolution, however, does not guarantee passage of the actual tax.

Instead, the legislative delegation representing this county now takes the resolution and creates what is called a “local bill” that will be introduced in the Alabama Legislature later this year.

There’s one other key ingredient to passage of a “local bill” in Montgomery: The delegation representing the particular county (in this case, Marengo County) must unanimously support the bill.

“If it’s not unanimous, the bill dies,” Singleton said.

On Thursday night, Jackson said he did not know about the resolution passed by the Marengo County Commission. He also said it was important to receive public input before taking the final bill to Montgomery.

“We can still hold a public hearing in Montgomery before the bill is passed,” Jackson said.

Asked if the meeting could be held in Marengo County, Jackson said that would be acceptable, as well.

Singleton said he was made aware of the commission’s vote on Thursday morning, two days after the resolution passed.

“A couple of members of the commission called and said they were going to get me a packet on it,” Singleton said. “But what you have to remember is that all the commission has done is passed a resolution. They can go back and rescind the resolution if enough people don’t want it.”

Both Singleton and Jackson encouraged a public hearing on the tax. And Singleton also said the eventual tax bill had to be advertised four consecutive weeks before it could be passed in Montgomery.

“They passed a resolution that is in our hands now,” Singleton said. “It’s up to us to determine what happens next. We can go back to the commission with it, if that’s what we decide to do. We can even pull the bill off the floor if that’s something we think needs to happen.”

As Montgomery politics work, members of the House of Representatives normally introduce “local bills.” Next, the Alabama Senate takes the bill and approves the House bill.

State Sen. Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa, also represents parts of Marengo County and he said he was unaware of the tax vote. However, he made it clear that revenue-generating bills for counties usually begin the House of Representatives.

Steele was reluctant to break with political procedure and call out members on the commission. He did say it’s important that all political leaders pay specific attention to the public-relations aspect of any sort of decision.

“If you have something that the people don’t want, you can always go back and re-educate them or try to re-sell them on the issue,” Steele said. “I also know that each case is different.”

Though Singleton, Jackson and Steele did not indicate how they felt about the tax resolution that quietly passed on Tuesday, all agreed public input is vital to making a decision of this magnitude. They also agreed voters must understand the plans for tax revenue before that tax goes into effect.

“Sure, this is more about procedure than anything else,” Singleton said. “But it’s also important that we look at what’s best for the county.”

While all agree revenue may be needed for Marengo County, the three legislators also believe a sales tax should be the last resort.

“It does tax the poor more than anyone else,” Steele said.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, who also represents parts of Marengo County, could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.