By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Seventeen years ago, one Alabama Governor proposed a lottery amendment to the Constitution. It sailed through the Alabama Legislature and went to the people of Alabama who decisively rejected the proposal. Now a new Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley (R), is proposing a new lottery amendment; but that former Governor, Don Siegelman (D), is urging that this new lottery proposal be rejected.
Gov. Siegelman said, “I had been asking the people of Alabama to establish a lottery since 1989. Over and over I pleaded “Every child, regardless of where they are born or to whom, deserve the right to quality education and every child should have the hope and dream of knowing that if they make their grades and stay out of trouble, they’ll be able to go to college free. In 1998 I was elected Governor again calling for an “Education Lottery”. A Georgia style lottery with 100% of the proceeds going into the “Alabama Education Trust Fund”.
Siegelman said that his lottery trust fund would have paid for Pre-K, college scholarships for most high school graduates, and school technology while Gov. Bentley’s lottery is being promoted by, “Hypocrites who opposed the lottery before now want to be bailed out from having to pass tax reform to force large foreign corporations, out of state, multinational corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Hundreds of companies make billions of profits in Alabama but don’t pay a penny. Foreign corporations which own nearly 30% of our timber land, pay only pennies in taxes compared to our neighbor, Georgia.” “Some of these same people who fought the lottery in 1999, whose greed or lust for power cheated our children out of a better life, want Alabama voters to bail them out.”
Gov. Bentley’s lottery would go towards Alabama’s state general fund’s needs primarily: economic incentives; prison improvements, and Alabama Medicaid, which is costing the state $700 million in fiscal year 2016
Gov. Siegelman claimed that, “Medicaid would not be in trouble in the first place if elected Alabama politicians had accepted the billions of dollars that came along with the Affordable Care Act. They foolishly looked that gift horse in the mouth, yelping political criticism at President Obama trying to curry political favor.”
Siegelman wrote, “Governor Bentley, a staunch Baptist, once joined the loud “Christian” refrain opposing a lottery as a sin, immoral, something so wicked it would surely usher in prostitution, muggings, robberies and create a wave of gambling addiction. These were the arguments used by opponents to defeat the “Education Lottery” referendum in 1999.”
Siegelman blamed Baptists, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed (then President of the Christian Coalition), lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon, then Congressman Bob Riley (R), and the Mississippi Choctaw Indian casinos for his stunning 1999 lottery referendum failure. Seigelman said that his opponents engaged in a money laundering scheme to funnel up to $20,000,000 from the Indian casinos into Alabama to defeat him, the lottery, and other gaming proposals.
Ironically it was the lottery referendum that ultimately led to Siegelman’s prosecution and present incarceration. Jurors found Siegelman guilty of agreeing to put then Heathsouth CEO Richard Scrushy on the Board that certifies hospital construction in exchange for a $250,000 contribution to his pro-lottery media blitz…..a charge that Seigelman hotly contests to this day. Siegelman contends that his indictment by then U.S. Attorney Leura Canary was timed to help then Gov. Bob Riley, whose campaign was supported by Leura’s husband, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) President William “Billy” Canary.
Siegelman said, “Today, I am not even sure how much money a lottery would yield, but I do know this, whatever it might raise should go to educate our children and voters should not let the Governor or Alabama Legislature get their hands on a penny of it. So I say, ‘Maybe a lottery, but not this lottery.’”
Democrats are hoping to use the lottery as an issue to build support for a comeback at some point in the future, like Seigelman did in 1998 (unseating Gov. Fob James (R)). Siegelman is the only Democrat to win a gubernatorial election in Alabama since George C Wallace (D) defeated Montgomery Mayor Emory Fulmer (R) in 1982 (Wallace’s fourth and final term as Governor). Republicans also know this and some contend are planning on passing this GOP lottery version to take the issue away from Democrats, who won’t be able to pull lottery funding from the general fund once it gets entrenched there. Voters who give the legislature a lottery are also going to be reluctant to then vote for any kind of a tax increase in the future.
Gov. Bentley has called a special session of the legislature that begins on August 15. State Senator Jim McClendon (R from Springville) and State Representative Allen Harper (R from Northport) are reportedly working on the controversial lottery proposal. A state lottery is expressly forbidden by Alabama’s 1901 Constitution so no lottery can pass without a vote of the people of Alabama. If a lottery passes through both Houses of the Legislature it would likely be on the November 8 ballot.
Gov. Siegelman is expected to be released from prison in August of 2017.
(Original reporting by CBS New Channel 42 contributed to this report.)