By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Sunday, June 28, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) announced that a hearing will be held in Montgomery on Zeigler’s suit to stop school boards from spending school funds in political campaigns for tax increases.
The hearing is set for July 2, on a lawsuit to enjoin school boards from using tax dollars in referendum campaigns for tax increases. Zeigler announced that the case is set for Thursday at 9 a.m. in courtroom 3B of the Montgomery County Courthouse.
The suit seeks to get a reversal of an opinion by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) that it is legal for school boards to spend public funds in campaigning for referendum issues.
The case arose in Baldwin County when a property tax increase proposal promoted by the Baldwin County Public Schools Board was voted down by 68 percent to 32 percent of voters in a high turnout campaign. The plaintiffs allege the school board spent $250,000 of public tax dollars on campaigning for the tax when the money was intended to operate the schools. The school board used the money on TV and radio ads promoting their tax package.
That law is Code of Alabama, 17-17-5, which states:
“…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 said in an earlier statement, “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.”
AG Strange has filed a motion to dismiss the case. He says the three plaintiffs do not have legal standing to bring the suit, failed to state a legal cause of action, and that the AG did not cause the damage.
Zeigler says the motion to dismiss has “totally missed the point – the plain meaning of the law.” “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.
The suit has been assigned to Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin, who will conduct the July 2 hearing and decide the case. It is not a jury trial.
Zeigler has vowed to be an advocate for decreasing government spending and finding wasteful spending.