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House Divided on Partisan Lines Over Taxpayer Advocate Bill

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, February 9, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 38 which would demand that the taxpayer advocate be appointed by the Governor and not be an employee of the Alabama Department of Revenue.

Republicans supported the legislation.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said in a statement, “Proud of the Alabama House Republican Caucus’s efforts to ensure taxpayers have the strongest advocate possible.”

The Alabama House Republican Caucus wrote in their own statement, “Alabama House Republicans believe that more should and can be done to ensure fair and equitable treatment for Alabama taxpayers. That’s why we prioritized and passed the Taxpayer Advocate Act, sponsored by Rep. Mark M. Tuggle, yesterday in the Alabama House.”

Presently, the taxpayer advocate role, which was mandated by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights passed two years, is selected by the commissioner of Revenue and must be filled by an employee within the Department. HB38 will require that the advocate to be appointed by the Governor from a pool of candidates selected by a five member committee of government officials and business professionals. The bill also significantly expands their role and duties including ensuring taxpayers are aware of the advocate and their role through a new website.

Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) sponsored the legislation, which passed on a party line vote 70 to 33.

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The Legislative Black Caucus called the bill, “A reckless piece of legislation that targets the Alabama Department of Revenue and strips its autonomy to impartially implement our State’s tax code without the influence or interference of this state’s political leaders.”

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The Legislative Black Caucus charged that, “The legislation, presented as a key measure in the Republican Caucus’s agenda, takes the position responsible for considering taxpayers’ disputes, which is governed by the state personnel merit system, and makes it a part of the highly controversial and political process of gubernatorial appointments…With little defense or evidence documenting a strong business case, current detriment, or the need to serve a greater public good, the sponsor merely suggested a desire to “improve the process. You will find few Alabamians who do not want to improve agencies to ensure best practices; you will likely find even fewer folks who agree with Tuggle’s light argument that politicizing and changing the position’s reporting structure without making any attempts to first evaluate and strengthen current processes will accomplish this aim.”

The House Black Caucus argued that if HB38 is passed, “The Legislature will overstep its bounds and shamelessly exercise its muscle to use cronies to influence, and perhaps control, the selection and action of a key state revenue official — an official who must impartially implement Alabama’s tax laws, even when its unpopular or unfavorable to do so.”

The House Black Caucus said, “House Democrats and members of the House Black Caucus stood together to unanimously oppose this legislation. The next time a duly hired employee in a state agency does something supermajority legislators, their cronies or constituents don’t agree with, they can circumvent the personnel system and take his or her position, simply because they have the votes. This type of careless action is indeed the start of a dangerously slippery slope.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

 

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