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Legislators jump to roll back appraisals

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Capitol Scene
It is something I have never figured out. In fact, I have quit trying.
Alabamians go to the grocery story and pay as much as 10 cents or more for every dollar of items they purchase and they rarely if ever squawk. They do the same thing when they buy gasoline. But when somebody starts messing around with their property taxes, which in Alabama are unbelievably low, their reaction is close akin to World War III.
For years the state Revenue Department re-appraised property for tax purposes every four years, but early in his first term Gov. Bob Riley approved annual appraisals. He said it was required by law. This obviously meant that if the value of the property increased then the taxes would increase correspondingly. Last year then-Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, in her unsuccessful campaign for governor, made these annual re-assessments one of her major issues. She vowed that if elected the first thing she'd do was rescind Riley's order for annual appraisals and return to reappraising the property every four years. She didn't win, but she obviously touched a nerve. Better, she had raised a politically popular issue.
Now comes not one but three legislators jumping onto this bandwagon. Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla; Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, and Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta, have all pre-filed proposed constitutional amendments to return the appraisals to a four-year schedule. Sen. Means said it well when he said property taxes are a “sacred issue” in Alabama. They are indeed.
Since all three proposals are constitutional amendments they would have to be approved by a vote of the people. There is not much doubt how the people would vote on such a proposition.
The giant German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG has announced it will construct the plant in one of those two states.
The magnitude of the project is overwhelming. It is estimated that the construction of the facility will create 29,000 jobs and when operational the plant will create 2,700 permanent jobs.
The site under consideration in Alabama is near Mobile because the plant wants to be near a seaport. It is not known when a final decision will be made.
How much is at stake? More than most of us can even comprehend. A Montgomery circuit court ruled that ExxonMobil committed fraud and because of that not only owed the state $102 million in royalties and interest but also a staggering $11.8 billion in punitive damages. This punitive damage was later reduced to $3.5 billion.
The state's contention is that the company knowingly sought to defraud the state by paying less in royalties than the agreement demanded. For the record, if the high court should find there was no fraud on the part of the oil company then all punitive damages would be thrown out.
Huckaby, a past president of the Alabama State Bar, was one of Alabama's leading First Amendment lawyers (freedom of the press) and represented several major Alabama newspapers. He also was retained by Sports Illustrated when it was sued by former Alabama football Coach Mike Price.
Huckaby was one of a number of men arrested at a federal wildlife preserve near Decatur last year and charged with soliciting homosexual partners.

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