By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
State Auditor Jim Zeigler has put forward a series of 2017 policy positions for state government that he believes Alabama should adopt.
Zeigler stated, “2017 is considered a political ‘off year,’ with no state or national elections. But State Auditor Jim Zeigler says 2017 can be a turning point for Alabama, or at least a prelude to a 2018 turning point.”
Zeigler has been a staunch critic of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s controversial plan to issue $800 million in bonds to build four super-prisons at sites the Governor will select, closing 14 existing prisons. Zeigler claims the move, “would indebt the state for the next 30 years.” Zeigler has presented an alternative he claims would fix prison overcrowding and safety problems, which he calls Plan Z. Zeigler has stated his plan would cost 75 percent less than the Bentley plan.
Zeigler says that the state should control the skyrocketing costs of the state’s Medicaid program, with block grants, per capita caps, or other new approaches under the Trump administration.
Zeigler warned, “Without radical changes, Medicaid alone has the ability to bankrupt State government.”
The State Department of Education has had to recently admit that it had falsified the state’s meteoric improvement in published graduation rates and even Gov. Bentley has stated recently that Alabama’s public schools “suck.”
Zeigler said that the state should now, “Move forward with the plans of new State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance to make our school system ‘the jewel of the South.’”
Zeigler also claimed that Alabama can use it’s new influence with the Trump administration to quickly start the widening of the Mobile BayWay and the new I-10 bridge.
Zeigler also urged the state to use this window with the incoming Trump administration to quickly fix the traffic congestion on Highway 280 in Jefferson and Shelby Counties.
Zeigler supports the rapid election of a new US Senator to replace Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who has been appointed US Attorney General by President-elect Donald Trump. Zeigler has raised concerns that Bentley may appoint Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to fill the expected vacancy.
“If the present [Attorney General] were elected to the U.S. Senate, Bentley would then name a [replacement],” Zeigler stated. “The naming of a Bentley lawyer as state AG would be during a time the Bentley administration is under possible investigation. That trap can be avoided only by electing someone other than the present AG as US Senator.”
Zeigler said that the state should avoid more costly special sessions: Bentley is already contemplating calling a special session to promote his massive prison public works project. A late summer special session to pass the Governor’s lottery plan ended with no lottery.
Zeigler is also hopeful for a victory in Zeigler v. STAARS, the legal challenge to the enormously expensive and flawed STAARS software contract. Zeigler said that this would allow the state a return of all or part of $47 million and a fix of a failed accounting system.
Zeigler also urged the legislature should respond to the recent historic drought by passing legislation allowing farms that do not abut the major rivers to access abundant water for irrigation. Zeigler said that the Cahaba River (which already supplies water to the state’s largest metropolitian area) does not have sufficient flow for this access, but the Tennessee, Alabama, and Tombigbee systems do. Zeigler said that after the drought of 2016, access to abundant water flowing through Alabama makes sense.
Zeigler said that the state should identify enough inefficiencies and mismanagement in government to afford pay raises for state employees, teachers and retirees.
Auditor Zeigler urged authorities to complete the investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley and the Bentley administration.
Zeigler said, “Sadly, this will likely have to be done by the Feds. The House impeachment committee halted their proceedings at the request of Attorney General Luther Strange. Now, Strange says he never said he has an active investigation of Bentley. That leaves the Feds. I hate it when the Feds do our business for us, but it may happen again with the Bentley case.”
Zeigler urged that the State re-open the state parks which he said were “needlessly closed by the Bentley administration”, either under State or local control. “Our state parks do not need to be a political football used by the Bentley administration to press for their legislative agenda.”
Zeigler concluded, “I will add more to this 2017 commonsense wish list as the February regular session of the Alabama legislature draws near.”