By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, September 13, 2016, embattled Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) attorneys will argue that the Governor was within his legal rights to appropriate at least $37 million in BP settlement dollars for improvements at Gulf State Park, including a luxury hotel and conference center and a Governor’s residence on the beach.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) and State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) have sued to block the irregular spending of the BP dollars arguing that only the legislature is constitutionally empowered to actually appropriate dollars under the 1901 Constitution of Alabama. Zeigler and Morrow are asking that Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Greg Griffin grant an injunction blocking further construction and spending of the BP dollars on this project. They are seeking a declaratory judgement.
Auditor Zeigler said in a statement on Saturday, “Gov. Bentley is acting as a one-man legislature. He is both appropriating and spending money that belongs to the State. This needs to stop now.”
Lawyers for Governor Bentley have filed a motion with the court asking Judge Griffin to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that Zeigler and Morrow have no legal standing to bring this lawsuit in the first place.
Attorneys for Morrow and Zeigler responded that the bipartisan duo: “Have brought this Declaratory Judgement Action in both their individual and official capacities, as an Alabama State Representative and as the individual responsible for carrying out the duties and obligation as Alabama’s State Auditor, respectively.” They are asking Judge Griffin to declare that “Defendants’ expenditures of state funds on the Lodge and Conference Center at Gulf State Park are unconstitutional and illegal.”
The earlier Gulf State Lodge was destroyed in a hurricane over a decade ago; but rather than rebuilding that much more modest structure, Gov. Bentley ordered that a much more extravagant luxury hotel be built. The legislature did appropriate the money to build a hotel; but in 2015 Gov. Bentley asked for another $50 million for his pet project. The legislature balked at the Governor’s request to be given another $50 million in bonding authority for the project. Refusing to let that get in his way, Governor Bentley seized on using a reported $35 million of the BP oil settlement dollars to build his luxury hotel as well as a controversial $1.8 reconstruction of the Governor’s mansion on the beach, itself rendered a ruin by hurricane.
In the recently concluded 2016 special session, the Alabama legislature recently passed legislation proposing selling the BP debt settlement revenue to private investors for a one time cash settlement. Under that plan, the money was to be divided between fully funding the long troubled Alabama Medicaid Program past the 2018 elections, paying down some of the 2008 and 2012 Alabama Trust Fund raids, and two road projects in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. The legislature elected not to act on the controversial raid of the BP down payment settlement dollars for the mansion and hotel after the fact.
Switzerland based Transocean’s ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil rig exploded on April 10, 2010 while tapping a massive new oil field for BP (British Petroleum). The explosion killed 11 crew members and led to the largest oil spill in US history, negatively affecting much of the Gulf Coast (including Alabama’s Baldwin and Mobile Counties) both ecologically and economically. BP and it’s partners have agreed to $billion in payments to affected states, businesses, and local communities in the aftermath. A new film on the loss of the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ will be in theaters on September 30.
The hearing will be at 9:00 am in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
According to multiple sources, Gov. Bentley’s administration is currently under criminal investigation by federal and state authorities, including the US Justice Department, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, and the Alabama Ethics Commission for allegations of possible ethics violations. The Alabama House Judiciary Committee has launched its own independent investigation into whether there is sufficient grounds to recommend impeachment of the 73 year old Republican Governor to the full House.