By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
When our state legislature returns to Montgomery, legislators will have to take on a major problem: funding our state budgets.
There are no easy solutions to our budget problems. But there are simple solutions that can generate millions of dollars for our budgets and put us on a path to fiscal stability without raising income or property taxes, or other taxes on working Alabamians.
These simple solutions are not new; they have been a part of Alabama Democrats’ platform for years. One solution is entering into a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The second solution is creating a statewide lottery.
And there’s good news: Governor Bentley and several state legislators have already said publicly that they are willing to consider these solutions.
The questions are: how much money can these two solutions generate, and how would we allocate those new funds? Last year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that a state lottery could generate up to $250 million.
How much we can generate from a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians would depend on the arrangement that the governor negotiates, and only the governor can negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. But according to the tribe’s annual report, in 2012, the gaming interests reported net earnings in the excess of $322 million. In states that have agreements with tribes operating gaming interests, the states typically received between 5 percent, 7 percent or 10 percent of all revenue. For Alabama that means a possible $32.2 million in new revenue!
That is why I will be introducing two pieces of legislation immediately in the next legislative session: a lottery bill and a resolution urging the governor to negotiate the compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.
My lottery bill will be the same bill I have introduced for the past several years. All the proceeds will go towards education and will be used to finance scholarships for kids to go to a university or community college. I do not believe lottery proceeds should be used for other government services.
It is past time we had a lottery in Alabama. Instead of watching our citizens play the lottery in neighboring states, watching potential money go right down the interstate with them, let’s keep them and that money here in Alabama.
Our children deserve a school system that is properly funded, filled with quality, caring teachers, good lunches and current textbooks. Unfortunately, all those things cost money that our state doesn’t have, which is a big problem.
With lottery funds propping up education, we can use the money from a compact with the Poarch Creeks to stabilize the General Fund budget.
Entering into a compact with the Poarch Band Creek Indians is very much a possibility. The vice chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Robert McGhee, recently told AL.com that the tribe was not only open to a compact, but was essentially waiting on Gov. Bentley to begin talks.
Will the lottery and the compact solve all of our problems? Probably not. But they will make a huge and immediate impact on our budgets, infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into our schools and other critical government services. And that would also buy us time to grow our economy and make other tough decisions that can get our budgets back on track.
It’s time to close the gaps in the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets, and we can make a great start with these simple solutions that work (just look at our neighboring states). At the very least, we need to give the voters a chance to vote on a lottery and encourage the governor to open a dialogue with the Poarch Creek Indians to see what our possibilities are.
The bottom line is that, even if we weren’t in a bad situation with our budgets, it doesn’t make any sense to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table-especially when that money is being spent anyway. Alabamians are already spending their money at casinos and playing the lottery. So let’s make sure some of that money comes back to our state and gets put to good use helping our schools and other critical government services.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.