Losing the lottery

The year was 1999; Governor Don Siegleman (D) had just been elected on the platform of bringing the lottery to Alabama. A year-long campaign ensued with Gov. Siegleman and his supporters blanketing the state with pro-lottery propaganda leading to the vote of the people to approve legalizing the lottery.

Opposition came from religious groups who said a lottery would exploit the poor and was immoral. Ultimately, the initiative failed in a vote of 54 to 46 percent.

Fast-forward to 2014; almost an entire generation later. Just last week, the largest media group in the state Alabama Media Group conducted a statewide poll asking readers if they would support or oppose a lottery vote if it were held today.

83 percent of readers said that they would vote ‘yes’ on a lottery vote if it were held today. Only 13 percent said they would vote ‘no,’ and a mere 2 percent of the total 7,200 voters said they were ‘undecided.’

What else happened last week? Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) stated publicly that he is opposed to a lottery, but “would not block a vote” if it were proposed by the legislature.

His challenger, former Congressman Parker Griffith (D), has taken a page from Siegleman’s campaign playbook by openly advocating for a lottery and he is picking up new ground for his position.

With such wide support for a lottery, why is it that the legislature and the governor have not budged on the issue? Are they out of touch? Do they simply not care?

My answer: welcome to election season. Politics in Alabama can be very wishy-washy. What you would think is common sense becomes a controversial issue instead.

We have state budgets that are in dire straits. Tuition is going up statewide because the legislature doesn’t have (or can’t find) enough revenue to fund schools adequately—including public universities like JSU.

Yet, an education lottery, which has shown would bring in at least $250 million in new revenue each year is an issue that the Republican Supermajority in the Alabama legislature is ignoring.

However, the tide is slowly changing. With new media coverage of statewide support for the issue, some Republicans in the legislature are “reconsidering” their stance on the issue. Meanwhile, the Democrats have proposed a bill each session to put the issue to a new statewide vote.

To me, this issue should not be a Republican versus Democrat issue at all. It’s a common sense versus perceived principles issue.

As policy makers, our state leaders need to learn a little more about solving problems rather than pandering to their political base. There is a huge problem: failing state budgets. There is a proven solution: an education lottery.

With all of the facts on our side, 15 years after the last statewide discussion, I find myself wondering: why does it seem that we are still losing the lottery?

Brett Johnson
Staff Writer

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