By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, August 25, voters in the City of Athens went to the polls and overwhelmingly voted to reject the proposed 12 mill tax increase which was to be used on an ambitious public works plan.
There was high turnout in this single issue election. Voters voted 62 percent to 38 percent to reject the tax increase. Only 2009 people voted “yes” for the tax increase. 3228 people voted “no.” 52.37 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum.
State Representative candidate Danny Crawford said on Facebook, “The people of Athens spoke in today’s election and they don’t want higher taxes. If elected, I will work hard with parents, educators and administrators on ways to reduce costs, save money, improve our schools and strengthen our education system for the children of Limestone County. They deserve the very best!”
State Auditor Jim Ziegler has stated that he believes that it was illegal for Superintendent Trey Holladay to use his official position as Superintendent and school resources to promote the tax increase.
Opponents of the tax increase claim that school officials broke two different laws here: Alabama Code Section 17-17-5 and Alabama Code Section 17-17-4.
The school system’s lawyers claim that no laws were broken.
Opponents of the referendum stated on Facebook, “Even if they were right, their actions are still highly unethical! Citizens should be equally as outraged if public funds are being spent promoting OR opposing a tax increase. Likewise, public officials should not use their official position to advocate for or against a tax proposal.”
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) has issued an opinion stating that taxpayer money can be used for political activity in a referendum. Auditor Zeigler hopes that a court will review the legality of the controversial practice.
State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has said that using school property and resources to promote a “yes” vote in a referendum is “unfair” and that legislation is necessary to correct this in the 2016 regular session.
The Athens tax referendum was widely watched by people across the State.
The Republican supermajority has won two straight legislative races by running on a platform of cutting the size of state government and no new taxes. After winning re-election in a landslide, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) suddenly claimed in February that the state needed massive tax increases.
Former Mobile County Commissioner and Republican strategist Stephen Nodine predicted in March that Governor Robert Bentley demanding more state tax dollars to prop up the growing costs of Medicaid and prisons would politicize tax referendums and increase tax payers’ anxiety leading to more referendum failures. Since then a growing anti-tax increase movement has swept the state defeating tax referendums in Baldwin, Colbert, Lawrence, and Jackson Counties and now in the City of Athens.
Despite the mounting evidence that the voting public is overwhelmingly opposed to any new taxes, Gov. Bentley is expected to call a special session in September demanding the legislature raise taxes by over $300 million.