Bill had unintended effects

Published 10:25 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

During the 2012 legislative session, HB 120 passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

It was portrayed as a bill to eliminate the inequities on property tax exemptions for the elderly and the disabled.  While many deserving senior citizens will benefit due to the bill’s passing, like so many other pieces of legislation passed in recent sessions, the unintended consequences of HB 120 are devastating for some others who are least able to afford it. All of Alabama’s citizens who are suffering from a condition that renders them totally and permanently disabled are now confronted with a property tax increase during some of the most challenging economic times of our lifetimes.

Prior to HB120’s passage, individuals who were retired due to a permanent disability were exempt from all state and local property taxes, regardless of age and household income.  Since HB 120 took effect on October 1, 2012, those same individuals no longer qualify for the exemption if their annual taxable income exceeds $12,000, and will now be required to pay city, county and school property taxes.
HB 120 does not need to be repealed in its entirety because it benefits many seniors by raising the income threshold from $7,500 to $12,000. Under the old law, only the elderly that made less than $7,500 of taxable income were eligible for a complete property tax exemption.   Under the new law, those older than 65 years of age and make less than $12,000 in federal taxable income are given a homestead exemption on their primary homes, or on up to 160 acres of land around that home. Thus, HB 120 simply needs to be amended to remove the household income requirement to ensure that all disabled citizens are fully exempt from state, county, county, and school property taxes.

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I have pre-filed legislation that will do just that.  My bill will restore the exemption for disabled Alabamians by removing the household annual income limit set by HB120.  If passed in the 2013 Regular Legislative Session, it will prevent the disabled from ever having to face this impending tax increase. My legislation will have a retroactive effect and will pre-date the negative consequences that so many citizens with disabilities will otherwise be forced to face in the coming months.

As an Alabamian, I am appalled at the thought of a disabled veteran being subjected to a tax increase due to an unintended consequence of legislation. But that is exactly what will take place without the solution that SB 27 provides.

The only way to prevent this tax increase on permanently disabled Alabamians and veterans is to amend HB 120. I urge the supermajority in the legislature to join me in my efforts to stop the tax increase on disabled citizens by making passage of SB 27 a priority in the upcoming session.  I have certainly made it a priority of mine.  It is simply the right thing to do.

Marc Keahey has served in the state Senate since 2009.