By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Another legislative session has come and gone, and the Republican leadership in Montgomery has still not allowed the lottery or casino legislation to come up for a vote.
Every year, the Republican leadership tells us they need more money to fund the budget, but they refuse to consider the most popular revenue-raising tool we could have (I would argue the lottery is the only popular way we could raise revenue).
The lottery and casino gambling are “voluntary taxes.” If you don’t want to pay it, don’t play it. And it sure beats the $86 million in new taxes on medicine and nursing home beds that the Republicans passed last year, or transferring more money out of education, like the $80 million they transferred out of the education budget last year.
Every public opinion poll I’ve seen has shown no less than 60 percent of voters saying they support the lottery, and more than 70 percent of voters saying they want to be allowed to vote on a lottery bill. But the Republican leadership in Montgomery still will not let the people vote.
Alabamians are tired of paying for people in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida’s education. Those dollars Alabamians spend playing their lotteries and gambling in their casinos should be spent here in Alabama! And make no mistake: Alabamians who want to gamble or play the lottery are going to do so. There’s a reason the highest selling lotto vender in Tennessee says that 60 percent of his business comes from people in Alabama crossing state lines to buy his lottery tickets.
It’s obvious that a lottery would be a thousand times better than the taxes Republicans raised on people in nursing homes, and attempted to raise on gas and oil you put in your car. But the only lottery they have even given serious thought about has been a “blank-check lottery” that didn’t say how the money would be spent.
The voters are not going to give this legislature a $300 million blank check with no accountability and just hope for the best. Our state leaders have done nothing to earn that kind of trust.
A reasonable compromise would be to divide the lottery revenue between the two budgets: put 60 percent into education specifically for scholarships, and the remaining 40 percent can be used to repair our roads and bridges that are in such desperate and dangerous shape. Investing more in our infrastructure would also create jobs and generate additional revenue for the state, as well as help us recruit more business to Alabama.
It’s time for our state leaders to listen to the voters and trust democracy. Let the people vote and decide the fate of the lottery and casino gambling, once and for all. Give the voters a lottery bill they can legitimately support; not a “blank check lottery” that would be abused and susceptible to corruption, but a lottery that says specifically how it will work and where the money will go.
State leaders should respect the will of the people and finally let the people vote!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.