By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
I have always believed in letting the people of Alabama decide the fate of gambling and whether we should have a state lottery to help fund education. You can never go wrong when you trust the voters and let the people settle these kinds of issues.
And though we sometimes disagree on political issues, this is one issue where Gov. Bentley and I are in complete agreement.
During the 2010 campaigns, Gov. Bentley said, “I believe the people of Alabama need to decide at the ballot box on a YES or NO vote whether to allow gambling or abolish all forms of gambling.”
Creating a state lottery has been an issue in Alabama for decades, but the voters have not been allowed to vote on the issue since 1999. A lot has changed since then, and we can draft a better lottery proposal than the one we put before the voters almost fifteen years ago.
Today, Alabama is one of only seven states that does not have a state lottery. And every day, Alabamians are driving to stores and gas stations in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets. But instead of their money going towards schools in Alabama, their money is paying for kids in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to get an education.
The reality is that people who want to play the lottery or gamble are going to do so. That is why you will see so many cars with Alabama license plates parked at these gas stations, at the casinos in Philadelphia, Mississippi, at VictoryLand or at the facilities owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
By not having a state lottery, we are not stopping or even slowing down gambling in Alabama. All we are doing is sending our money to other states to help pay for their children’s education while year after year our schools continue to struggle to get by.
A report provided by the Legislative Fiscal office during last year’s legislative session estimated that a state lottery could generate as much as $250 million per year for our schools. And news articles in neighboring state’s have shown that those states brought in much more.
Instead of giving that $250 million to other states every year, we need to be using that money for our own children’s education.
That is why I plan to propose another lottery bill during the 2014 legislative session, and I am asking Gov. Bentley to stand with me and keep his campaign promise to finally let the people of Alabama vote on a state lottery.
The lottery bill that I will sponsor will set aside $50 million to provide every school in Alabama with one resource officer. For school systems that do not have a resource officer, this will give them a new sense of security and help maintain discipline in their schools. In the school systems that already pay for a resource officer, this will allow them to use that money for other educational needs.
The rest of the revenue generated from the lottery will go towards providing scholarships to students who make the AB Honor Roll. This money will help them to pay for tuition and books at either a four-year university or at a two-year college or vocational school of their choice.
Every year, the costs of higher education are increasing. At the same time, more and more jobs are requiring a higher level of education or training. In this economy, it is extremely difficult to get a job with just a high school diploma, alone.
Our children need and deserve a chance to get their degree or certificate in a vocation so that they can get a good job and make their dreams a reality. A state lottery can open the doors of opportunity for thousands of children in Alabama and lighten the burden on thousands more.
The time is right. Let’s keep Gov. Bentley’s promise to the voters and finally allow the people to decide the fate of a state lottery in Alabama.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.