By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
The two most important issues that the state of Alabama will be facing in 2014 are education and job creation. These two issues are usually tied together because education is so critical to getting a good job, as well as recruiting and growing business.
But education and job creation are also connected to two other important issues: gaming and a statewide lottery.
Gaming and the lottery have been issues in Alabama politics for decades now, and we they still have not been resolved.
I have frequently and publicly been in support of establishing a statewide lottery. Estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Office show that we could bring in $250 million for our schools from a lottery.
Alabamians are already spending millions of dollars on a Statewide lottery. We are just doing it in other states. Tennessee, Georgia and Florida all have their own lottery and are more than happy to take our money and spend it on their children’s education.
Mississippi does not have a State lottery, but their casinos in Philadelphia are certainly making money off of customers from Alabama. And the Indian gaming facilities in Alabama are reporting record growth in gaming revenues.
The time has come to let the people of Alabama decide the fate of gaming and a statewide lottery. This is a commitment Gov. Bentley made in 2010 when he 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.” And I am asking the leadership in Montgomery to honor that commitment.
State leaders in Montgomery have tried to go around the voters and use the courts to determine the fate of gaming. I think that is wrong. This is a democracy, and we need to let the people decide.
That is why I will reintroduce legislation this year that will allow the voters to decide if we will create a State lottery. Under my bill, the revenue brought in from the lottery will only be used for education, with $50 million being used to put a school resource officer (i.e., security guard) in every public school while the rest of the revenue will be used to provide scholarships to students who make the A/B Honor Roll. These scholarships can help our children afford an education at any university, two-year college or technical school of their choice.
It is also time to decide – once and for all – if we will allow facilities like VictoryLand to continue to operate, and if we will enter into a compact with the Indians on their gaming facilities.
Currently, the State of Alabama has not entered into a compact with the Poarch Creeck Indians. The Indian’s gaming facilities are permitted under federal law, but because the state does not have a compact with them, we are missing out on millions of dollars that could go toward our schools, economic development and other state needs.
We need to negotiate a fair compact that allows the Indians to continue their operations but also guarantees that the State benefits as well.
And by going after VictoryLand and other legal gaming facilities, the only thing the state has done is eliminate jobs and prevent these facilities from paying taxes and creating more jobs.
It is time to resolve these issues once and for all. It is time to move forward and for state leaders to keep their promise to the people of Alabama. It is time to let the people vote!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.