On Tuesday, a lawyer with the Alabama Ethics Commission ruled that State Auditor Jim Zeigler‘s active support for full funding of state pre-paid college program is permissible.
The ruling was handed down amid some controversy over the fact Zeigler’s family had purchased two of the PACT – or Pre-Paid Affordable College Tuition – plans for the couple’s own children. Those concerns were jettisoned by commissioner Hugh Evans Tuesday, opening the path for Zeigler to continue his advocacy efforts.
“Mr. Zeigler cannot separate his actions from his official role, but as long as he does not use his position or the mantle of his office to receive a benefit different than that accruing to the other members of the affected class, there is not an Ethics violation,” read the decision that cleared the statewide auditor. “The class affected is all participants in the PACT program. This is a very large class, and it would appear to affect all members equally.”
Zeigler, who bought two PACT plans 16 and 21 years ago repsectively, has been pushing for the Legislature and governor to approve “a modest part” of funding from the recent settlement related to the 2011 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to make whole parents and guardians who had purchased plans before the program went insolvent in 2009, which led to a devaluation of the plans.
Zeigler has argued plan purchasers would not improperly benefit from such an arrangement because they would simply be remedially receiving funding they were owed anyway, as opposed to benefitting from a new windfall.
The plans, Zeigler told ALToday.com last month, were not an investment subject to loss but rather a contract the state agreed to fulfill at “a sum certain.”
“This is a wrong that needs to be righted,” said Zeigler. “The BP money may be the last chance to provide the full tuition that these families paid for and based their planning on.”