Jim Zeigler files suit in Baldwin County school tax campaign case

State Auditor Jim Zeigler

State auditor Jim Zeigler said late Monday morning that he has filed suit to prevent taxpayer dollars from paying for public campaigns to increase local tax receipts.

The move is a legal remedy to a legal opinion offered by Attorney General Luther Strange, who permitted local officials with the Baldwin County School Board to leverage public money in order to fund their “Build Baldwin Now” campaign, which sought to increase three local tax rates to build new schools, which the group said was inadequate, and on boarding new teachers.

Zeigler said in Loxley Monday morning at the Windscape Hotel that the campaign, reported on widely by state media, represented a violation of a state prohibition against the “improper use of state property, time, etc., for political activities,” under the Code of Alabama 17-17-5(a).

“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,” the section mentioned in Zeigler’s complaint reads.

The auditor’s case will go before the Circuit Court of Montgomery and seeks “declaratory and injunctive relief” on behalf of Alabama taxpayers, meaning that Zeigler and the other plaintiffs — including Charles L. McMinn and David Peterson — want a judgment that says using public coffers to induce taxpayers into giving more is wrong and that orders any public official doing so to cease and desist.

The full text of the complaint can be found here.

Zeigler insists his lawsuit serves a purely utilitarian public purpose and is not meant to capitalize on the still-raw feelings many carried away from the March 31 election, which saw a shocking defeat for the school system and a big win for anti-tax groups.

“We’re not trying to flame up opinions in Baldwin County where 68 percent of ‘no’ votes were pretty strong,” Zeigler told AL.com last week, responding to such criticism.

Alabama Today previously reported that Zeigler would file the lawsuit this week on Friday, but after his announcement the auditor’s office apparently decided to expedite the process.