Rev. Jeff Pate, a resident in Tuscaloosa’s 6th District, spoke to the council before the vote took place and voiced his opposition over the proposed tax increase.
“As you know, any flat tax like general sales tax or tax on gasoline is a regressive tax,” said Pate. “By this, I mean that it disproportionately impacts the poorest members of our community.”
To Pate, the increased tax on groceries could be detrimental to lower income families in the city. Pate said he thought it could mean a loss of food for some members of the community.
James Gunter also voiced his displeasure over Elevate Tuscaloosa. He felt that the money raised through a tax increase could be put into other projects.
“Some of the projects [like the] $15 million for a gymnasium in the West End, they don’t need a $15 million gymnasium,” said Gunter. “They need better lighting, roads paved, curbs, sidewalks and most of all, businesses.”
Elevate Tuscaloosa had projects that planned to put $15 million into the Tuscaloosa Airport. Along with that, the proposal also planned to put another $17 million into educational programs and another $60 million into a downtown entertainment district over the next decade. Maddox hoped revamping those parts of the city would create jobs, bring in new residents, and keep many of the university students in Tuscaloosa long after they graduate.
After several meetings held in February, the council decided to amend certain aspects of the proposal. Some of the changes included making the sales tax increase permanent, a move that members of the council felt would raise over $500 million for projects over a 33-year period.
Councilmen Matt Calderone and Eddie Pugh, along with Councilwoman Raevan Howard voted in favor of the tax increase, while council members Sonya McKinstry, Phyllis Odom, Kip Tyner, and Council President Cynthia Almond voted against it.
Many of the council members voiced some of the same concerns regarding Elevate Tuscaloosa. Kip Tyner felt that with Tuscaloosa’s high poverty rate, a regressive tax increase would only hurt lower income communities.
“We have a rather high poverty rate, and a sales tax would only widen that gap,” said Tyner. “I think we should consider, if it’s the will of the council to move forward, looking at the Legislature to allow us to do a property tax referendum. It’s a more equitable tax.”
Mayor Maddox was disappointed that the council didn’t vote to approve Elevate Tuscaloosa, but he remains optimistic about finding another way to improve the city.
“It’s extremely hard to make tough decisions in good times,” said Maddox. “I’m certainly disappointed, but we have a job to do tomorrow and we’ll certainly get back to work trying to, as we do every day, make Tuscaloosa better.”