Political duel begins

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 2, 2002

BNI Newswire

Gov. Don Siegelman and GOP challenger Bob Riley exchanged a hug and cordial words in Clanton Saturday – but Monday their campaigns were exchanging dueling statements about education funding.

"My four-point plan will raise hundreds of new dollars for education," Siegelman told The Associated Press at a campaign rally in Birmingham. "The only thing (Riley) is promoting … is raiding the Alabama Trust Fund."

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Siegelman specifically disagreed with Riley’s statements that he would consider "un-earmarking" state tax dollars for education, which Riley has said would give local school districts more authority to spend money as they see fit.

"I want to protect and strengthen the Education Trust Fund," Siegelman said in a statement. "I want to invest hundreds of millions of new dollars into education, and I want to make sure that taxes already dedicated – by law – for education are spent on education and only on education. I will fight to ensure that those laws are never changed."

Certain state taxes – mainly sales and personal income taxes – are earmarked by law to be spent on schools.

Part of Siegelman’s plan is another lottery proposal, despite the failure of a similar attempt in 1999.

Riley, meanwhile, released a statement that said he will announce his own plan later in the campaign.

"I will be releasing my plan to fix Alabama’s education system in the coming weeks," he said. "As we work to improve our kids’ education, every idea needs to be on the table for consideration. I will not rule anything out at this time.

"Don Siegelman and his Montgomery insiders have had long enough to improve education and have failed. Don Siegelman fails to remember that on his watch our state’s education budget has gone into proration twice – he wants people to forget that fact."

Siegelman’s campaign has sent out daily press releases about Riley and his lack of an education funding plan.

"The people of Alabama want their education taxes spent on schools, and they don’t trust the politicians to spend that money on schools unless they have to – by law," Siegelman said in one such statement Monday. "It just goes to show, that when it comes to the issue of education funding, Bob Riley is out of touch with the people of Alabama. He doesn’t understand their priorities."

With Siegelman making what might be the first official campaign appearance since both men won handily in their party primaries, Riley went further in his criticism of the administration than just education.

"In addition, it is clear Don Siegelman has failed on improving Alabama’s economy as well," Riley said. "His criticism of my support of the recent Bush economic stimulus legislation is ridiculous. With estimates that the Bush stimulus plan would create thousands of new jobs in our state, it was unanimously supported on final passage by Alabama’s bi-partisan Congressional delegation. I am working to create jobs in Alabama as unemployment has increased to as high as 6 percent since Don Siegelman became governor. It’s time for a change."