By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) has asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) and two other plaintiffs. Strange says the three plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring the suit, have failed to state a legal cause of action, and argues that the Attorney General did not cause the damage.
Zeigler recently announced that he is updating his lawsuit against Strange. Zeigler and two taxpayers from Baldwin County filed suit against Attorney General Luther Strange and five Baldwin school officials after Strange issued an AG’s opinion permitting the use of taxpayer funds by the Baldwin County Board of Education in a referendum on a proposed tax increase, after the Board had spent the money and Zeigler had asked the AG to take action in the case. They allege that the Baldwin School Board spent over $250,000 of taxpayer funds campaigning for a tax increase in a March 31 referendum.
Voters rejected the new taxes by 68 percent opposed to 32 percent. Voters in Colbert and Lawrence Counties have subsequently rejected similar proposals by as almost 80 percent opposed.
“The Attorney General is throwing legal technicalities against us trying to justify a wrong. It is illegal and grossly unfair to use taxpayer’s money to campaign in a vote for a tax increase,” Zeigler said.
Improper use of State property, time, etc., for political activities is covered under the Code of Alabama 17-17-5(a): “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”
Zeigler is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that Strange and the Baldwin school board were wrong and that the spending of public funds in the campaign violated the law. The suit has been assigned to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin.
Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Robbie Owen has since resigned over his role in the misappropriation of funds scandal and the failed efforts to convince voters to raise property taxes on homeowners in Baldwin County is necessary. In Baldwin County school officials inexplicably included referendums on the renewal of existing taxes on the ballot with the massive tax increases. Some of those also failed so the whole debacle has actually costs Baldwin Schools existing revenue.
Voters in Lawrence, Colbert, and Baldwin Counties have all rejected local tax increase proposals by wide margins since Governor Robert Bentley (R) announced plans to raise $541 million in new taxes on the people of Alabama in February.
Two separate recent polls by both the Alabama Political Reporter and the Yellowhammer News have indicated that the Alabama voting public statewide are not in favor of raising taxes. Despite the broad based sentiment against new tax increases, Gov. Bentley has vetoed a recent State General Fund (SGF) budget which would have right-sized the SGF to fit existing state revenues after $437 million raided from the Alabama Trust Fund for SGF has been exhausted. Prior to that the legislature used one time spending from the Obama stimulus and reserves to prop up the SGF, which has shrunk from $2.1 billion before the Great Recession to just $1.62 billion in fiscal year 2016, unless the legislature approves either new taxes, legalized gambling, or raiding the Education Trust Fund in a future special session to be called by the Governor.
Zeigler and Strange have both been mentioned as potential GOP candidates for Governor in 2018 by GOP insiders.