By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, September 11, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a budget which raises taxes in order to continue to feed the troubled Medicaid program and avoid the specter of a federal takeover of the long neglected Alabama Corrections System.
Most other General Fund agencies took modest cuts of only four to ten percent. The State Auditor’s office was not so lucky. State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) reports that his office was slashed by 60 percent in the state general fund budget that passed the State House of Representatives on Friday.
Most state General Fund agencies only received about a 10 percent. The new State Auditor has been in office only seven months, but unlike past auditors, he has been active in opposing what he terms as wasteful government spending. He has opposed Gov. Robert Bentley on his threats to cut programs that affect citizens while making no cuts to his own expenses and to perks of powerful elected officials.
On Sunday he released a statement on Sunday appealing to his 4,000 Facebook followers. Zeigler wrote, “YOUR HELP NEEDED TO STOP CRIPPLING SLASH OF STATE AUDITOR’S BUDGET. The budget bill which passed the House Friday, HB1, singled out the State Auditor’s office for about a 60 percent cut that would cripple essential auditing. Other agencies received cuts in the 10 percent range, which the auditor’s office could live with.”
Zeigler continued, “We ask for your help quickly in maintaining barebones funding for the State Auditor’s office. Please contact the State Senator for your district and any other Senators that you know personally. Ask them to consider moving for an amendment to HB1 to change the $400,000 appropriation to the State Auditor to around $1 million, which would allow essential auditing and be a cut in line with other agencies.”
The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee meets at 1 p.m. today in room 727 of the state house to consider HB1, the state general fund budget. Zegler hopes that the committee will restore funding for his office.
Zeigler is asking that citizens contact, “Only Senators that are your own or that you personally know. Contacts work better from the Senator’s own constituents. At this point, contacting State House members will not help, but if that changes we will notify you here. Thank you.”
Jim Zeigler believes that he has angered the Montgomery establishment by opposing tax increases, exposing corruption, and also because he opposed the removal of the Wallace portraits from the capitol rotunda, the four-laning of historic North Eufaula Avenue, the threat to close 15 state parks, the use of taxpayer funds in campaigns for tax increase referendums, and the removal of Confederate items from the capitol museum gift shop.
This is not the first time that the legislature has punished a state auditor for upsetting the Montgomery elites. The writers of the 1901 Alabama Constitution envisioned the state Auditor being a watchdog against government abuse answerable only to the voter of Alabama. In 1939 however the state legislature took much of the Auditor’s powers and responsibilities away when they created the Examiner of Public Accounts office, which is answerable ONLY to the state legislature. The Auditor’s office is primarily tasked with maintaining an inventory of state property to prevent theft of things like: guns, cars, copiers, furniture, and computers. Guns are usually the item most frequently “lost” by State employees.
Advocates for government reform have long wanted to fold the Examiner of Public Accounts back into the Auditors office. However both the legislature and Governor Robert Bentley’s office have resisted efforts to make deep structural reforms in state government like merging the two agencies or merging ADECA and the Department of Tourism under the Commerce Department getting rid of much of the top heavy management.
Many political insiders have suggested that Zeigler may be a gubernatorial candidate in 2018. There is speculation that perhaps the GOP establishment that runs the legislature and the state is using the budget crisis to play politics against a conservative rival.