State Auditor Jim Zeigler continues his crusade against wasteful government spending on Thursday, when a Montgomery court will hear his case against Attorney General Luther Strange and five members of the Baldwin County school board over what Zeigler alleges is improper use of taxpayer dollars to support a tax hike campaign earlier this year.
As we have reported previously, Zeigler filed suit against the defendants back in May, arguing the school system should not have used public money in its “Build Baldwin Now” campaign to increase local millage rates for new school construction. The campaign was soundly defeated, but not before some $250,000 was spent on an advocacy campaign in favor of the tax hikes, a move Strange, Alabama’s highest law enforcement official, defended in a legal opinion.
Zeigler hopes to overturn that ruling on Thursday.
“The attorney general is throwing legal technicalities against us trying to justify a wrong. It is illegal and grossly unfair to use taxpayer’s money to campaign in a vote for a tax increase,” Zeigler said in a prepared statement on Monday.
Zeigler points to state law which he says contravenes Strange’s decision, particularly a statute in the Code of Alabama, 17-17-5, which states:
“…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.”
Zeigler has previously said the attorney general’s opinion should not carry the force of law because Strange has an inherent conflict of interest in the case.
“Attorney General Strange is also a defendant in this lawsuit,” Zeigler said. “We will prove that he issued an erroneous AG opinion saying it was legal for the school board to spend taxpayer funds in a campaign for a tax increase. Since it was this strange opinion that caused this issue, it would a conflict to have him or his staff issue another erroneous opinion that taxpayer funds can be used to defend individuals who misspent taxpayer money.”
The suit is set to be taken up at 9 a.m. Thursday by Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin.