Lottery battle begins

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 17, 2002

BNI Newswire

With talk of a lottery heating up again, those who opposed the idea the first time around are still against such a funding mechanism for education.

Gov. Don Siegelman, in his bid for a second term, has made an education lottery part of his four-prong plan to fund schools. The other aspects of the plan include giving control of schools to local communities; making "special interests" pay their fair share to schools; and pledging not to raise taxes for Alabamians.

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But those vying to be Siegelman’s opponent on the November ballot took aim this week at his renewal of the lottery idea.

Lt. Gov. Steve Windom said the lottery revenue – estimated at $150 million – is not enough to effect a "fundamental change" in the state’s education system.

"The current lottery scheme (Siegelman has) proposed is snake oil," Windom said.

Siegelman won election in 1998 on a pledge to bring a lottery to Alabama. A year later, it was defeated by Alabama voters, led in part by ministers and conservatives who were against using gambling money to fund education.

The original lottery plan would have paid for a scholarship program similar to Georgia’s lottery-funded Hope Scholarship. Now, Siegelman wants lottery revenue to go directly to the education budget.

"Not only will I say that we need a lottery for education, but I will give the people a second chance to vote on it," Siegelman said. "In 1999, my political opponents fought and killed Alabama’s lottery, costing education hundreds of millions of dollars."

Windom said opponents of the lottery in 1999 had an alternative – raising out-of-state tuition to pay for a scholarship program.

Noting that Alabamians in many communities – including Alexander City and, most recently, Elmore County – have rejected raising taxes for education, Windom said it’s about accountability.

"The reason is not because Alabamians don’t care about education," he said. "They care about their money not making it to the classroom."

Windom said bidding state contracts, one of his first goals as governor, would save the state money that could be used for education.

Other GOP contenders were also quick to criticize the lottery, although they did not offer alternatives to help fund education.

"I will fight Don Siegelman all the way to November on the lottery issue with every ounce of strength and resolve in my body," said U.S. Rep. Bob Riley in a statement. "And when election day comes, we will put the lottery to death once and for all, we will drive the Montgomery insiders out of the Capitol and we will return honesty and integrity to the Alabama Governor’s Office."

Riley’s office did not return a phone call for comment Thursday.

Republican Tim James, a distant third in the polls, also came out against the lottery, and announced a new ad campaign that will say he is also against Constitution reform and new state taxes.

"The lottery issue is similar to the rewrite the Constitution issue," James said in a statement. "It is sold as a bill of goods to the people that will be a panacea to solve all of our education problems."

"But Don Siegelman and the education establishment have it backwards. They say ‘give us more money and we will give you performance.’ The voters of this state have shown over and over – most recently in Elmore County – that they do not believe this. They want to see performance first."