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bills stalling

Hot campaign issue making
little progress in Legislature

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A major issue in last year's legislative elections — ending annual property tax reappraisals — hasn't made much progress in the current legislative session, which will be half over on Thursday.

Several bills to end annual reappraisals have been introduced in the House and Senate, but none have won approval from a legislative committee.

And if one passes to return homes to being reappraised every four years, some opponents predict it will be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.

"It would be a trial lawyer's dream to try a case three or four years down the road," Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said Wednesday.

In 2003, when Alabama was facing a shortfall in tax revenue, Gov. Bob Riley's revenue commissioner ordered counties to start changing from reappraising residential property every four years to every year.

The last three counties, Choctaw, Conecuh and Washington, are scheduled to switch to annual reappraisals in 2008.

After some of Riley's opponents made annual reappraisals an issue last year, the governor said the change was necessary to comply with a state law that requires property to be appraised at its fair market value. But he said he would sign legislation ending annual reappraisals if the Legislature passed it.

Part of 'Covenant'

In last year's election, Democratic legislative leaders made it part of their campaign promises called the "Covenant for the Future." Many Republican legislative candidates campaigned on the same issue.

When the new legislative session began in March, several Democrats and Republicans introduced bills to back up their campaign promises, but the bills are still awaiting votes in committees.

Why all the talk last year and so little action this year?

"They got re-elected, I guess," Hubbert said.

Plus, he said, legislators are beginning to understand the revenue problems that would be created for public schools and local governments if annual reappraisals ended.

Several reappraisals bills came up for public hearings in the two Senate budget committees Wednesday — the day before the halfway point in the session — but no votes were taken. Most of the bills are constitutional amendments that would require the approval of the Legislature and then approval by Alabama voters in a statewide referendum.

Sen. Roger Bedford, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee, predicted his committee will eventually approve a bill switching to appraisals every four years. "A majority of the committee is unhappy with Bob Riley's backdoor tax increase," Bedford, D-Russellville, said.

But Susan Kennedy, an attorney for AEA, said the Legislature would be inviting lawsuits over equal protection issues if it has homes appraised every four years but continues to appraise business property and cars every four years.

Annual reappraisals are helpful to businesses and vehicle owners because equipment and cars decrease in value each year, she said.

Annual reappraisals on homes causes homeowners to pay more because their property tax bill generally goes up some each year. With appraisals every four years, hometowns generally get a big increase one year and then stable taxes for three years.

Legislative fiscal experts predict that conducting reappraisals every four years will reduce property tax collections by city, county and state governments by $13.5 million in fiscal 2010, $33.7 million in fiscal 2011, $48 million in fiscal 2012, and $62.6 million in fiscal 2013.

AEA is joined by many others in the education community in trying to keep annual reappraisals.

Patrick Conner, chief financial officer for Tuscaloosa schools, and Jeff Langham, school superintendent for Elmore County, told legislators Wednesday that their school systems sold bond issues based on the extra money they are getting from annual reappraisals, and a switch to reappraisals every four years would hurt their schools.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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