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Last updated 1:12PM ET
March 6, 2021
Lawsuit Challenges State's Property Tax Law
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A federal court suit contends Alabama's lowest-in-the- nation property taxes were rooted in racial discrimination a century ago and still harm black students in disproportionate numbers.

Jim Blacksher, a civil rights attorney who filed the suit, said it seeks an order for the governor and Legislature to restructure Alabama's tax system across the board to sufficiently fund K-12 schools.

Filed in Alabama's northern district federal court Friday on behalf of some Lawrence and Sumter county public school students, the suit seeks class-

action status that could impact all public schools in the state.

Blacksher, a lead attorney in Alabama's long-running college desegregation case, told The Birmingham News in a story Tuesday that the suit, if successful, would require the state to confront tax reform, including sales taxes that hit the poor hardest.

Local school systems in Alabama cannot raise funds for their schools that come anywhere near the support the school needs, Blacksher said. Property taxes are taxes on wealth. Sales taxes are not.

In the college desegregation case, the issue of how Alabama's property tax system affects minority students was raised in 2004. U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy found the property tax system is a vestige of discrimination, but would need to be raised in a separate case.

This is the case, Blacksher said.

Robert Hunter, an attorney who represented the state in the higher education case, said he was disappointed the issue was raised in federal court and not left to the legislative process and Alabama residents.

The suit, which names Gov. Bob Riley and Revenue Commissioner Tim Russell as defendants, contends the 1901 constitution first set out racially discriminatory property tax restrictions that force local governments to fund public schools primarily through regressive sales taxes while letting large landowners pay little in property taxes.

It also cites what is known as the lid bill, a 1973 constitutional amendment that sets limits on property tax collections.

The current ad valorem tax structure is a vestige of discrimination inasmuch as the constitution provisions governing the taxation of property are traceable to, rooted in, and have their antecedents in an original segregative discriminatory policy, the suit said.
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