During an interview that aired early this week on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, former Gov. Don Siegelman discussed his 1999 bid to institute an education lottery in Alabama.
Twenty years later, lawmakers are revisiting lottery proposals. One has already passed the Alabama Senate, with another soon to be considered by the Alabama House.
In 1998, Siegelman defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Fob James with a lottery as a key component of his gubernatorial platform. However, in a special election, the lottery referendum failed with some, including Siegelman, blaming gaming interests across the state line in Mississippi, particular the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
“I was the lottery guy,” Siegelman said. “People were voting for me because they wanted the lottery, and we were torpedoed by the Mississippi Indian casinos owners. And I can forgive everybody for what happened to be me and why it happened and who was involved.”
“You know, what really bothers me is that because of their greed for money, and that’s all it was – our children in Alabama for 20 years have been denied a chance to reach their God-given potential through education,” he continued. “And you know, that has impacted hundreds of thousands if not more of our children and families – you know, that does bother me that they were cheated out of their chance.”
Siegelman estimated that had a lottery been in Alabama for the last two decades, a fully funded pre-K program would have already been instituted in Alabama.
“We would have easily had a fully funded free pre-K for every child in Alabama whose parents wanted to send their children,” he added. “And you know, what that does with parents – that frees them up. Instead of $15,000 a year, $10,000 a year that they have to pay for somebody to take care of their kids while they go to work. So, it impacts families as well.”
Siegelman urged lawmakers to allocate money from any future lottery solely for education. He also suggested lawmakers hoping to have voters approve a lottery to put the referendum on a primary or general election ballot, as opposed to a special election ballot as he did in 1999.