Ward votes against Jefferson County occupational tax bill

State Rep. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) voted against a bill that would restore and lower an occupational tax in cash-strapped Jefferson County.

The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 17-15 to cut the occupational tax from 0.5 percent to 0.45 percent during a special legislative session. The tax applies to most people who work in Jefferson County no matter where they live.

The House also pushed through a bill on Wednesday mandating Jefferson County must hire a manager.

The Alabama Senate must also vote to approve the bills, which must be signed into law by Gov. Bob Riley. The Senate could vote on final passage Friday. Jefferson County voters will have an opportunity to end the occupational tax during a public referendum in 2012.

Despite pleas from State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for non-Jefferson County legislators to observe the local courtesy rule and not vote on the occupational tax, five legislators who do not represent Jefferson County voted for the bill. Four legislators who do not represent Jefferson County voted against it.

Ward, a candidate for Senate in 2010, said about 40,000 people in Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties work in Jefferson County and are subject to the tax. Many of Ward’s constituents “will unfairly bear the brunt of financial disaster created by the Jefferson County Commission.”

“It is a travesty to impose a tax on hard-working families to cover the ineptitude of county officials whose out-of-control spending caused this fiasco in the first place,” Ward said. “If the Senate passes this measure, it will be a sad day in Alabama.”

Jefferson County has laid off about one-fourth of its employees since a judge ruled the occupational tax unconstitutional in January. The loss of revenue has the county teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.