(NOTE FROM QUIN: To non-southern Alabamians, this might look like a purely local issue, but it’s worth taking a look because the principle discussed is universal, and should apply wherever you live. Thanks!)

 

BALDWIN County school officials sealed the fate of their proposed 8-mill tax hike, along with renewal of another four mills (which really stings), by their high-handed, presumptuous arrogance in using taxpayer dollars to campaign for new taxes.

(Both the new taxes and four mills of renewed taxes were voted down in a referendum on Tueday, March 31.)

First, a caveat: I have a longstanding inclination — not a hard-and-fast rule, but one I usually observe — of not writing in favor or against a local tax for a jurisdiction where I don’t live. While Baldwin and Mobile Counties are so conjoined in so many ways that a tax in Baldwin is almost the same as a local tax for me, I thought it better that I not deign to tell my Baldwin neighbors how to vote.

But when it became clear that the school officials there were using what amounted to taxpayer dollars for a political campaign, I was sorely tempted to erupt. The problem is, the unethical use of those funds — and yes, it was indeed unethical — was not, strictly speaking, an indication of the merits of the tax proposals themselves.

Still, the defeat of the tax surely owed something, maybe a significant something, to a backlash against that misuse of public funds.

It should be an absolute rule: Public money should not be used to take sides in a political campaign. And anybody who doesn’t understand why — who doesn’t understand the dangers of mixing public dollars with explicit politicking for one particular side, and who doesn’t understand the ethical obligation to use the public fisc only for the intended purpose of the funds — is so blinkered as to merit absolutely no respect, much less public office.

It made matters worse that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange issued a truly bizarre opinion just days before the election advising that such use of funds was perfectly legal. He did so based on a similar opinion from an earlier AG in 2003– questionable even then — even though a new law had been passed in the meantime in response to that earlier advisory opinion, in an obvious attempt to block further such uses of public funds.

Again, though, one needs no AG opinion, and no parsing of the law, to understand the ethics of the situation: Taxpayer money intended for education should not be used to pay for campaign activities. Period.

One can still argue whether Baldwin’s children were well served by yesterday’s vote. Opponents of the taxes certainly made a strong case, and my sympathies usually lie with tax opponents. Either way, though, the school officials who used tax dollars for campaigning got exactly what they deserved — or at least part of what they deserved. The second part is that they — not all those who supported the various taxes, but just those who played a role in allowing the campaign use of public funds — deserve to be evicted from office at the next opportunity. And good riddance.

— Quin

 

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