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Why pay the occupational tax? Maybe to support the arts…

04.10.2009 by AndrĂ© Natta · → Leave a comment

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I blame those years attending the Savannah College of Art and Design. Others may consider the years I spent growing up in The Bronx and being a short bus ride away from the zoo and our botanical gardens. No matter what the real reason is, I know that even when I’m struggling to make ends meet, I see access to the arts as an important piece of the puzzle.

The cultural opportunities that exist in metro Birmingham are numerous and sometimes we take them for granted. This is despite being one of the most generous cities in the country when it comes to supporting non profits. The case for support for many may be one that becomes harder this year as the people deal with the effects of the economic crisis. Enter the current situation involving the occupational tax in Jefferson County.

Many people who don’t live in the county see the tax as something that is not necessarily fair to them. They want to see tangible results of paying the extra money. Something I’ve realized in the years I’ve lived here is that no one does a really good job of explaining how monies are used (including us). A current grassroots campaign may provide some transparency and accountability for at least a portion of the funds as well as a warm and fuzzy feeling for those that pay the tax who live outside of the county.

The Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham is suggesting that a rewritten occupational tax that could stand up to legal challenges should have a portion of it set aside for allocation to culural organizations throughout Jefferson County. I think it becomes a lot harder for those not currently paying the tax to say that there is no value to doing so if the Alliance is successful in their efforts.

The money collected would have the potential to improve the quality of life for everyone in the region, providing institutions like the McWane Science Center and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute the chance to do more for those that live nearby and those that are visiting our city. Increased funding for these institutions have the potential to have a greater economic impact long term than the monies that we’re about to lose as a result of the Super 6 relocating to the new football capitols of the South.

That last sentence may be one that riles more than a few feathers here in Birmingham, maybe because we don’t necessarily pay attention to these other jewels in the region. As a baseball fan, I can think of a lot of people that will be venturing into The Magic City next year to catch a glimpse of America’s oldest ballpark as it turns 100. Hearing the Symphony perform Rhapsody in Blue doesn’t hurt either. Then there are those children benefitting from programs like Scrollworks… Maybe times have finally changed, and we need to be ready to embrace them.

Currently, it looks like this proposal is facing an uphill battle. State Representative Linda Coleman has introduced legislation that would re-instate the tax as is. I’m not really sure if that’s the best case scenario considering that the current tax has been under some legal scrutiny recently. This new version provides some transparency to a funding source that appears to be greatly needed, especially as our county contemplates bankruptcy as an option to deal with our sewer crisis.

As Birmingham prepares to potentially take its place in the New South, this proposal would provide a tool that enables it to reach its goal sooner rather than later.

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