Originally created 12/30/98

Miller gives Hodges lottery advice



ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Zell Miller has a few weeks left in office before he retires to become a college instructor, but Tuesday he gave South Carolina Gov.-elect Jim Hodges a few lessons in the art of passing a lottery amendment in a Bible Belt state.

After an hour-long session, it was clear Mr. Hodges is a quick study.

"The biggest need in South Carolina is to invest wisely in educational improvement," Mr. Hodges said, sounding a lot like Mr. Miller when he won election in 1990 promising a lottery in Georgia.

"One thing about South Carolinians is they are pretty independent thinkers," Mr. Hodges said. "It's hard for them to deny the success that Georgia has had with the lottery program. When people ask for me to point out an example of why this can work and will work, I will simply point down to the Savannah River and the state of Georgia."

Mr. Hodges is the second incoming governor to make a pilgrimage to see the father of the Georgia lottery and HOPE scholarships.

Alabama Gov.-elect Donald Siegelman, who, like Mr. Hodges, won office promising a lottery for education, visited with Mr. Miller in Atlanta on Dec. 17.

Mr. Hodges talked with Mr. Miller about what he and his staff did after Georgia's 1990 election to help sell the lottery to lawmakers and voters.

Mr. Miller had already promoted lottery programs -- such as college scholarships and pre-kindergarten classes -- during his 1990 campaign, so lawmakers knew what to expect.

He quickly sold legislators on the idea that his election was a mandate for a lottery, which had been discussed in Georgia for years.

Besides getting the proposed constitutional amendment through the Georgia General Assembly in 1991, Mr. Miller specified how the proceeds would be divvied up and spent.

By the time the proposed amendment came before voters in 1992, they had been told over and over again that proceeds would go for new school programs and not spent for legislators' pet projects.

The Georgia lottery narrowly passed in 1992. But today, the programs it pays for, such as HOPE college scholarships, are so popular that voters protected their funding with a follow-up constitutional amendment approved in November.

Mr. Hodges must "make sure that the people understand it is going to education. It is going to those programs he talked about in his campaign," Mr. Miller said.

"It's very, very important you tell the public where the money is going to go, and then you make sure the Legislature helps you put it there," the outgoing Georgia governor said.

Mr. Hodges told reporters he wants to spend the proceeds of a South Carolina lottery on college scholarships, pre-kindergarten classes and reducing the pupil-teacher ratio.

He called Mr. Miller and Georgia "trailblazers," and said his election was "a clear mandate not only for change in South Carolina, but for a lottery in our state."

Although Mr. Hodges considers passing a lottery amendment "a daunting task" in South Carolina, he added, "Republican legislators there understand poll results, and they certainly understand electoral results just as well as Democrats do."

If it makes it onto the 2000 ballot, a South Carolina lottery could be up and running by 2001.

About 10 percent of the players who win prizes of at least $500 come from South Carolina and Alabama, Georgia Lottery President Rebecca Paul said.

If that figure holds true for all sales, that means residents of those two states spent about $173 million on lottery tickets last year.

Nonetheless, Mr. Miller said he's not worried about Georgia losing players to lotteries in South Carolina and Alabama.

"I look at how many young South Carolina children are going to be helped by the improvements in education. That's good for South Carolina; that's good for the South, and that's good for the country," Mr. Miller said.

"I look at the big picture. The big picture is we are all in this together, and unless our children are educated for this next century ... if they don't do well in South Carolina, if South Carolina doesn't do well, Georgia is not going to do well."

Mr. Hodges said, "Georgia should be proud of the fact we are trying to replicate what you have successfully done in the state of Georgia. The trip was well worth it. His counsel was wise."

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.