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Legislature approves hazardous waste tax cut

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Tax breaks for Alabama's low-income workers, its retirees and its small business owners went nowhere in the just completed session of the Legislature. But the lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a tax break for hazardous waste going to an Alabama landfill.

In the closing hours Thursday night, the Senate voted 31-0 for a bill cutting $20 off the tax placed on each ton of hazardous waste and polychlorinated biphenyls sent to the
Waste Management landfill near the West Alabama town of Emelle.

The bill, which passed the House 97-5 last month, now goes to Gov. Bob Riley, who has not said whether he will sign the bill.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, pushed the bill through the Senate, saying it could create about 50 jobs by bringing more PCBs to the landfill located near the Mississippi state line.

Waste Management isn't making any hiring predictions. But Rodger Henson, market area general manager
for the company, said it should help.

"It will allow us to be more competitive outside Alabama with waste going to other facilities," he said.

David Newton, legislative chairman for the Sierra Club of Alabama, said the organization didn't take a position on the bill. But speaking personally, he said, "Bringing in this kind of thing on the assumption you are going to create jobs seems to be strange logic."

The production of PCBs is banned in the United States because of their negative health effects. They were once widely used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment.

Singleton said the new legislation won't cut down on the monitoring at the Emelle landfill by the state or federal governments.

The Waste Management operation is Alabama's only commercial hazardous waste landfill.

While the tax break on hazardous waste passed, several other tax cuts never came to a vote in the House and Senate before the legislative session ended late Thursday night.

The failed legislation included Rep. John Knight's bill to remove the state sales tax on groceries and Gov. Bob Riley's bills to raise the level at which low-income families start paying an income tax, exempt some retirement income from taxation, and give a tax break for small businesses that supply health insurance to their workers.

Singleton said the Emelle bill passed while the others didn't because legislators realized what they had done to Emelle by raising the hazardous waste tax dramatically in the early 1990s.

Before then, the landfill employed 420 people. Now it's down to 88, Henson said.

Tax collection figures from the state Revenue Department show the hazardous waste tax went from producing $3.3 million in fiscal 2003 to $2.2 million in fiscal 2006.

"The Legislature knew this was something they did that hurt the Black Belt," Singleton said.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated a loss of $800,000 annually in tax collections if the amount of waste going to Emelle remains the same.

Under the state law, the state and Sumter County share tax revenue from the landfill, but the county gets the first $4 million, Singleton said. For Sumter County to keep getting the same revenue it has been getting, disposals at the landfill will have to increase by 40,000 tons annually, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated.

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

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