September 28, 2011
By: John Clark
After months of speculation and negotiation, state legislators in Alabama recently rejected a revenue plan aimed at keeping Alabama's largest county from filing bankruptcy.
If Jefferson County is unable to solve a $50 million annual budget shortfall, the county may have to file for the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history.
According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, a plan recently proposed in the Alabama State Legislature called for a dramatic hike in sewer taxes over the next 40 years. The plan would have eventually raised $3 billion for the insolvent county.
Legislators from Jefferson County, however, dismissed the proposed tax hikes as "inhumane" and refused to support the bill. A previous tax increase on county workers' incomes was also recently dismissed by a state court, and state legislators have no intention of reintroducing a similar measure.
This decision has left the Jefferson County Commission scrambling to find an alternative revenue source. Reports indicate that the commission has sought a major loan from a Wall Street lender, which might help the county avoid fiscal disaster.
Of course, while the county has yet to file bankruptcy, the burden of excessive debt has forced local officials to trim vital public services. According to sources, government workers have faced layoffs, and county residents are forced to wait in long lines at the county courthouse when seeking basic services.
The county's severe financial troubles were caused in part by a public scandal that reportedly saw 21 public officials indicted on corruption charges. This incident, combined with the recent recession, took a heavy toll on Jefferson County's financial health.
While town members are reportedly upset that they may be forced to pay higher taxes to repair the damage left by corrupt public officials, some recognize that increased taxes may be the only way to revive the economy of a county with almost 700,000 residents.
If the legislators are unable to agree on a comprehensive revenue package, and the county is unable to secure a reasonable loan from a major lender, Jefferson County may find itself facing the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in United States history.
For the beleaguered citizens of Jefferson County, bankruptcy may ultimately provide the safest route away from financial ruin.