Robbing Smokers to Pay Pols

If I took something of yours and later found out I had done it illegally, I’d expect that you’d want it back. In Alabama, they’ve been collecting an illegal tax. Once it was declared illegal by the state Supreme Court, they aren’t making any attempt to restore the money to the rightful owners. From The Birmingham News:

The high court ruled that money collected under the tax by Bessemer, Hoover and Hueytown – about $1.8 million – go to Cooper Green Hospital after a third of the sum is awarded in attorney fees.

With regard to money collected by Trussville, Mountain Brook and Homewood, the court ordered Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King to either dismiss the case against them, or transfer the case to the Birmingham division for a judge there to make a ruling. The court ruled that King – who presides in the Bessemer Cutoff – had no jurisdiction over the cities in the Birmingham division.

Efforts to reach King on Friday were unsuccessful.

King’s dismissing the case would mean those cities would get the money they’ve collected. Transferring the case to Birmingham would mean the money would remain in escrow until a Birmingham judge, in essence, concurs in the Supreme Court’s ruling. If a Birmingham judge rules that those cities illegally collected the tax, it’s unclear what happens to the money the cities have collected.

Since January 2004, a 10-cent tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products has been collected in those Jefferson County cities. State Sen. E.B. McClain filed a lawsuit, claiming the tax was illegal. His lawsuit asked that the money collected go to Cooper Green Hospital for the treatment of tobacco-related illnesses.

A total of about $2.1 million has been collected in tobacco taxes. The money has been held by the circuit court clerk in Bessemer.

As one might expect in Alabama, the lawyers and the hospital get their payola, but the victims don’t get restitution. While returning the money directly to each individual might prove difficult (who keeps all their receipts for cigarettes?), they could have reduced state cigarette taxes for a period of time and allowed the illegally collected money to go into the state coffers. This indirect restitution would have required legislation, but it was a legislator who reportedly filed the lawsuit. It would have at least attempted to get the money back to the people who were initially pick-pocketed.

Additionally, as the municipalities involved were obviously in the wrong, attorney’s fees should not have come from the wallets which were lifted by the government. This hospital is listed as public, which means a government entity gets the money already illegally collected by the government. So far, the only question seems to have been which thief gets how much of the take. With respect to Mountain Brook, Homewood and Trussville, restitution isn’t even an option.

What if I had been caught stealing Senator McClain’s car and the judge decided to give the car to my business partner and make McClain pay the legal bills? That wouldn’t seem fair, would it?

posted by Stephen Gordon
  • Sandra Kallander

    It’s unclear to me which town the hospital is in, but the sad and obvious problem is that unless some oversight is planned, the money going to the hospital will probably be an excuse to lower their budget elsewhere.

    I’ve often thought about donating money to a public library, for example, but can’t because it would just mean the bureaucrats will debit the budget by the same amount (they always use libraries as an excuse to raise taxes without it ever resulting in noticeable improvement).

    Money and water seek their own level. A high tide raises all boats.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/flpdistrict6rep Gabe J

    Hey, I have been so busy lately, Ihavent been able to check you all out. As a lot of you know, I have been trying to clean up a local board here in florida, and I need peopel to help me out with a letter writing campaign I am running on myspace. here is the link, copy and past the letter, and the e-mail addresses. I am filing charges with the florida ethics comission tomorrow, and want these guys to get to work and have hundreds of mails on the subject waiting. Please help out if you have three free minutes for comeone who really sees real corruption and is trying to fix it, thank you.

    http://blog.myspace.com/flpdistrict6rep

    help out thank you

  • http://www.frankworley.com Frank Worley

    I think the appropriate response here is a class action suit by smokers in that county, and the bill should be that the county and or cities involved, pay 10 cents a pack until the 2.1 million has been paid back.

    Of coarse attorney’s fees, should also be paid along with punitive damages which in some states is 3 times the actual harm added to the harm amount. So it could be up to 30 cents per pack off, (minus attorney’s fees).

    Just a thought. Maybe Loretta Nall should take this one up. (hope I spelled that right)

    Frank