"I see it as an economic development bill," said Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood.
For the past three years, DeMarco has proposed bills to create an Alabama Tax Appeals Commission to hear appeals by taxpayers who say they've been charged too much by the Alabama Department of Revenue. He said Monday that he’s bringing that bill back for the 2014 session.
At present, those appeals go to the Administrative Law Division of the Revenue Department, which is run by an appointed judge. Taxpayers can also take their tax disputes to circuit court.
DeMarco’s proposal would shutter the Administrative Law Division, moving its staff — and its $425,000-per-year budget — to a new, independent agency within the executive branch.
An independent appeals agency, DeMarco said, would foster development by giving businesses more confidence in the state's tax system. Most other states, he said, have tax courts that don't answer to the states’ revenue departments.
"You want to make sure there's a perception that a citizen has an independent person to hear their case," DeMarco said. "I'm not taking shots at the current judge or the department. It's a matter of perception."
The Star's calls to the current judge, William Thompson, were referred to Department of Revenue spokeswoman Carla Snellgrove. Snellgrove said the judge's office already has a good deal of autonomy.
"The office is independent from the ADOR's organization," Snellgrove wrote in an email. "The office of the (judge) is located in a separate building from ADOR's offices."
DeMarco has yet to file the 2014 version of his Tax Appeals Commission bill, but the proposal has already earned a place on the legislative agenda for the Republican supermajority in the House. It was one of six tax-related proposals on the agenda that Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, unveiled in a press conference last week.
Also on that agenda was a proposed $1,000 tax credit for people who adopt children. Another bill, called the Tax Elimination Act, would allow the Department of Revenue to stop collecting old taxes that cost more to collect than they bring in. And another, the Small Business Tax Relief Act, would release some businesses from the requirement that they pay their sales taxes up front, based on projected revenue.
"Their whole agenda is a bunch of pudding," said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. Ford said that despite what Republicans said about tax relief, only one of the bills on their agenda — the adoption tax credit — clearly offered a cut in taxes.
"They're trying to appeal to small businesses, but these bills do nothing for small business," he said.
Ford wouldn't comment on the Tax Appeals Commission bill specifically, saying he hadn't seen the 2014 version bill. Legislative records show he voted against a previous version of the bill.
DeMarco said the creation of a commission would cost nothing, because the bill would simply move money from the Revenue Department to a new agency.
However, earlier versions of the bill did have a fiscal impact. Each of those bills changed some of the state's rules for collecting various penalties, such as a requirement that revenue officials give 30 days’ notice before charging taxpayers a late-filing penalty. According to a fiscal note on the 2013 version of the bill, the changes would have cost the state a net $1 million in revenue.
DeMarco said the bill will be filed soon. The legislative session begins Jan. 14.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.