Tax Foes Criticize College Support

Higher education in Alabama is stumping for higher taxes. But opponents of the tax say the public institutions should stay neutral.

The University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of South Alabama all have links to pro-tax material on their Web sites.

UAB’s Web site prominently displays a “Vote Yes Sept. 9” sign on its home page. The University of Alabama has a link on its home page that says the same thing.

All the universities are part of the UA system except South Alabama.

Alabamians will vote Sept. 9 on whether to adopt Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax initiative.

“A public institution should not be used as a way to further their political views,” said Brenna Hapes, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Citizens for a Sound Economy, which opposes the tax increase.

Kellee Reinhart, spokeswoman for the UA system, said the practice is legal.

“We are very comfortable using our Web sites,” Reinhart said. “The way we see it is this is not an election campaign with political candidates or any issue that would provide our employees with actual personal gain.”

Bob Gambacurta, spokesman for the Tax Accountability Coalition, an anti-tax group, said this was just a step towards the schools being used as a way to push Riley’s plan.

“Whether it’s against the law or not, it’s not right,” Gambacurta said. “They’re trying to use everybody in education they can reach out and touch.”

By posting the material, the schools must have used some public funds, opponents noted.

“It’s an inappropriate use of public funds,” Hapes said. “They’re spending taxpayers money to ask the taxpayers for money.”

Reinhart said Malcolm Portera, chancellor for the UA system, announced the system would not use funds to buy “tangible” materials — such as signs or bumper stickers — to support the “yes” vote. She said the plan is something the schools support.

“There was just a strong consensus among the leadership team in the University of Alabama system that Gov. Riley’s package is fair, it is equitable and it is extremely important to the future of the state,” Reinhart said.