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U.S. Supreme Court turns away tax challenge in Ala. deseg case


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to Alabama’s property tax system that was filed by plaintiffs in the state’s long-running higher education desegregation case.

The plaintiffs in the 25-year-old case, which was settled in December, filed a challenge in 2004 to the state’s lowest-in-the-nation property tax system and its revenue-restricting measures.

U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy, who was presiding over the higher education case, held a hearing on the challenge and rejected it, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did the same. The plaintiffs asked the nation’s highest court to hear their challenge, but the court declined without comment Monday.

The plaintiffs had argued that Alabama’s limits on property tax revenues do not sufficiently fund K-12 schools, forcing the state to use money that should go to higher education.

As a result, they said, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition and fewer dollars have been available for student aid, which has meant lower black enrollment. They also argued that the system was linked to the racist goals of those who drafted the state’s constitution in 1901.

Attorneys for the state argued that the tax issue was properly reviewed by lower courts and that the state’s limits on property tax revenues have not been shown to cause segregation in higher education.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Blacksher told The Birmingham News in a Thursday story that the situation needs to be studied before a decision about filing a new lawsuit is made. Such a suit would require “a broader base of support,” he said.

Robert Hunter, one of the attorneys who represented the state against the tax challenge, said a federal court decision declaring the property tax system unconstitutional would have put Alabama “in a tremendous bind.”

“Depending on how it came down, we could have been in a position of having to make up for lost property tax revenues this tax year, or at the very least in the position of having to come up with a new tax system that would meet with the court’s approval,” Hunter said. That undertaking, he added, “would have been a difficult battle for all parties.”

Information from: The Birmingham News

– Associated Press

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