By Brandon Moseley and Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The Jefferson County Commission is asking the Alabama House of Representatives to give them a massive $62 million tax increase package that never sunsets. The Jefferson County Commission has continued to refuse to close Cooper Green Hospital or present a plan to either the legislature or the bankruptcy court to downsize Jefferson County Government’s spending. The Commissioners have taken a hardline negotiating position with the Alabama legislature. The Senate has already passed the controversial tax increase package, putting all the pressure on the Republican controlled Alabama House of Representatives to “save Jefferson County.”
‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ talked with Representative Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds about the controversial occupation tax proposal, which is likely to come before the House on Wednesday. The mammoth tax increase package was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jabo Waggonner (R) from Vestavia. Rep. Drake said that Sen. Waggoner’s, “Occupation tax would be permanent and would not sunset and would not do anything to resolve the Cooper Green situation.”
Rep. Drake said, “Trying to help Jefferson County without fixing Cooper Green is like pouring gas into a pickup truck with a hole in the gas tank. You can keep pouring gas in to it but at some point you have to fix the tank. Pouring money into Jefferson County without fixing Cooper Green won’t save Jefferson County.”
Attorney Jim White who has studied the situation closely told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that all sides of the Cooper Green issue admit that there is no good information available about Cooper Green. “It is very hard to make good decisions if you do not have good information. You can not manage what you can not measure and you can not measure what goes on at Cooper Green.” The Black Democrats in the Jefferson County legislative delegation have strongly resisted efforts to close or require reform at Cooper Green Hospital to this point.
On Monday, Rep. Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter,’ “If they (the U.S. Supreme Court) uphold the act (Obamacare), then we don’t need Cooper Green. If they strike down the Act, which I don’t think they will do, then we can go to work on indigent care for Jefferson County. To make a decision on indigent care until we know how the Supreme Court rules is premature in my opinion.”
Rep. Todd said that Rep. Jim Carns (R) from Jefferson County was going to introduce a substitute bill in the House on Wednesday. Representative Drake said that he does not know anything about whether there is going to be a substitute bill or not and did not know what Rep. Carns was planning to do, but acknowledged that an unofficial meeting between legislators was still scheduled for that Tuesday night.
Rep. Drake said that he had tried to introduce his own substitute bill in the Committee, but was unable to get a second for it.
Rep. Drake told us that “Cooper Green is sucking the money and the life out of Jefferson County.” Cooper Green has a budget approaching $90 million and hundreds of employees. The Republicans in the Jefferson County legislative delegation had proposed building a state of the art clinic to replace Cooper Green Hospital. All the local hospitals had agreed to take Cooper Green’s patients.
On Tuesday it was revealed the Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman (D) and administrators at Cooper Green Hospital had been holding secret bank accounts which they used to pay friends and consultants without informing either the other Jefferson County Commissioners or County Manager Tony Petelos of the existence of the accounts. In September, Commissioner Bowman denied paying those consultants anything when asked directly by fellow Commissioners. Earlier in the week it was revealed that Cooper Green had an additional $5.4 million in unpaid invoices they had been hiding from the Commission.
Rep. Drake said that there are “so many ideas being kicked around” by legislators and that the Republicans were still trying to come up with some sort of a compromise. Rep. Drake acknowledged that some legislators were trying to kill the bill and complained that the mainstream media was trying to slander the legislators who favored compromise.
Rep. Drake said that he doesn’t want to saddle the people with a perpetual occupational tax and that the Republicans in the House delegation had offered the Commission a 63 months long Occupation tax to get their financial affairs in order and deal with the problems at Cooper Green, a so called bridge tax, but could not get it done.
Rep. Drake said I want to help Jefferson County; but said that he did not want to saddle the people with a perpetual Occupation Tax. “Jefferson County got along just fine for years without an Occupation Tax.”
Rep. Drake said that he is not sure how he was going to vote if Sen. Waggoner’s bill was the only bill on the floor. Drake said that he had constituents who were for the Jefferson County bailout and constituents who were urging him to vote against the tax and his email box was full from both sides.