State Auditor Jim Zeigler has issued a call to lawmakers to include the restoration of a popular prepaid college tuition program to full funding in light of the recent $2.3 billion settlement between the state and British oil giant BP over the 2011 Deepwater Horizon spill that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico along Alabama’s coastline.
As legislators gather again in Montgomery for a Special Session, Zeigler has added grievances by parents who were shortchanged by recent budget cuts to the list of Alabamians who may be made whole following the recent BP windfall. Meanwhile, lawmakers will attempt to sort out the ongoing state budget clash between statehouse leaders and Gov. Robert Bentley, who vetoed their first attempt at a plan to fund the state government for FY 2016-2017,
Parents who prepaid for four-year college tuition plans under the state’s PACT — or Prepaid Affordable College Tuition — plan were abruptly told by state officials in 2009 that their purchases would no longer cover costs above what was covered the following year after the fund became insolvent.
Zeigler has taken up their cause, arguing that their prepaid agreements with the state were not investments subject to loss, but pre-arranged contracts to be fulfilled by the state “at a sum certain.”
Therefore said Zeigler, a retired lawyer, parents who purchased the plans but were denied coverage increases after 2010 are owed the differences they were forced to pay out-of-pocket despite earlier assurances to the contrary.
With legislators such as Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Steve Clous already lining up to dedicate the bulk of the settlement to repay state debts, Zeigler said he isn’t asking for a special earmark, but simply for the state to pay what it had promised.
“This is a wrong that needs to be righted. The BP money may be the last chance to provide the full tuition that these families paid for and based their planning on,” Zeigler said Monday evening.