Amendment loses support with author

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Dallas County voters must decide today whether or not to allow potential African investors to open an Alabama Foreign Trade Investment Zone in Dallas County.

The local amendment to the Alabama Constitution of 1901 would create a special tax district for the purpose of importing duty free and quota free articles.

Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the special tax district would specify the value of the land and improvements on the land. Property within the district would be assessed and taxed by county officials under a single site valuation system.

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State Representative Yusef Salaam said he withdrew his support of the amendment, adding that it was defeated once on the state floor.

“I don’t even know how it passed, the first time it came up it was killed by an individual from Mobile,” Salaam said. “Overall, it’s bad legislation. I would encourage the voters in my district to vote against it.”

Salaam said people out of Mobile originally drafted the bill after African businessmen made a presentation to the Black Caucus.

However, Salaam said the ad valorem section was never mentioned and when he found out about it, he withdrew his support. Fellow Representative James Thomas did also, according to Salaam.

“We were not told that there would be some underlining language when I agreed to support the trade zone concept,” Salaam said.

The bill would allow African companies to set up a special trade zone in Dallas County, bypassing import taxes and duties on the articles, if approved by the Selma City Council.

The idea under the AGOA would be to aid developing countries in Africa establish a flourishing export trade.

State Senator Hank Sanders said he liked the possible economic development aspects of the bill, though he emphasized that he did not introduce it or have anything to do with it.

“I think it would help economic development,” he said.

Sanders added that other places in Alabama either have similar amendments on the ballot or already have similar laws in place.

“It supposedly fits in with tourist places that develop considerable tourist traffic,” Sander said. “I didn’t realize Macon County had one on the ballot until I was over there last Tuesday.

Apparently, it’s just an economic development tool being used by places that are poor (so) that other places might not attract these kind of businesses.”

Still, Sanders said since he had did not initiate the bill and he had not read it since August when it became a campaign issue in the Selma City Elections.

A political flier was sent out claiming Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. and others were behind the amendment.

The flier also claimed it would raise taxes.

Perkins, Sanders and County Commission Chairman Johnny Jones all said in August they knew nothing in

the bill that would not raise taxes, but could lower the city’s tax base.

Jones and the commission went on record as opposing it three weeks ago.

If passed, the tax free zone would still require approval from the Selma City Council before a foreign investment zone could be created.

It also gives the city council the right to veto the district via resolution, if the voters pass it.

That’s something, Salaam says should not happen.

“The bill, under these circumstances, should not be supported,” Salaam said. “It was a courtesy thing the Black Caucus tried to extend.”