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Baldwin County Vote Could Jeopardize Bentley Tax Package

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) has the unenviable task of convincing a Republican supermajority which was elected by voters on a platform of no new taxes and downsizing bloated State government that what they really need to do is pass a massive $541 million tax plan and grow the State general fund by over 20 percent.

Tuesday’s resounding defeat of education tax increases in Baldwin County made that a much harder campaign.

The Baldwin County Board of Education wasted over $200,000 of public education tax dollars in a horribly orchestrated media campaign to convince Baldwin County voters that somehow giving the school board $27 million a year in new property taxes so they could go on a wild school building spree benefited the people any.

The voters in an overwhelming Republican County overwhelmingly voted, “No.”

Gov. Robert Bentley is going around the people and is instead asking legislators to pass his tax package without the people being given the opportunity to vote on any part of it. If we learned anything from the Baldwin County debacle and Gov. Bob Riley’s disastrous $billion amendment one campaign a decade ago that was probably a good idea.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said in a statement, ““Build Baldwin Now,” the vote yes group, spent over $200,000 and lost.  The opponents, “Educate Baldwin Now,” reported raising $4,699 and spending $3,995.73 but won.”

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Zeigler said, “There is an old saying that money is the mother’s milk of politics.  In the Baldwin vote, the public’s lack of confidence in education leaders to be good stewards of the tax dollars overcame the big money.”

Political consultant and former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine (R) told the Alabama Political Reporter that the campaign failed because the campaign was poorly managed, the school board was not giving anything up (such as a small sales tax decrease) to get the money, and because Governor Bentley’s tax proposals made Baldwin voters feel under siege by their own government.

Nodine warned that, “Bentleys tax plan will dramatically affect every school tax vote in the State and any local efforts to shore up the mandates and cuts from the State.”

Former Commissioner Nodine said that the redistricting case’s failure in the U.S. Supreme Court means the legislature is unlikely to pass Bentley’s tax plan. Legislators have it in the back of their minds that they could face special elections next year if the court forces the State to redistrict to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

“Unpacking” Black voters from majority minority districts would result in some districts becoming more competitive for Democrats.  Other districts could actually become Whiter and more Republican.  In those districts, legislators could face challengers from the Tea Party in special election Republican Primaries.

While he agrees with the idea that the State needs to increase revenue for the general fund, Nodine said at this point the best thing that the Governor could do is withdraw his tax plan and let the legislature pass a budget that gets the State to next year.

The State Senate has already prepared a barebones general fund budget with no tax increases.  The legislature can then address the general fund in the 2016 legislative session or come back in a special session following the special election for a long term fix.

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Nodine said that the Governor and the legislature should go to the voters with a constitutional and tax reform package rather than the cobbled together package of taxes on cars, utility bills, insurance, and cigarettes that Bentley proposed.

Jim Zeigler says he will continue to fight for a declaration that it is illegal to spend tax dollars in political referendums.  “There are other counties with tax votes coming up.  We badly need to stop the illegal and wasteful use of tax dollars in political campaigns.”

Nodine said that Baldwin County’s embattled school board should focus on reversing the referendums on the renewals of the taxes they lost.  Nodine called the decision to ask for the tax increases on the same ballot as the renewals was “inexplicable.”

Written By

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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