By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Update: In what is being described as a bizarre video press release, Gov. Robert Bentley spoke for over five minutes about a Special Session without ever once mentioning the date of the call. Bentley says he will be traveling the State to gather support for a Lottery to feed the State’s ailing General Fund Budget but didn’t commit to a date certain.
MONTGOMERY—Soon, maybe even today, Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to call a Special Session of the State Legislature to address Medicaid and a State Lottery. However, over the last several days, Bentley has flip-flopped on when to call the Special Session. Last week, Bentley said he would call a Special Session in late summer or early fall, but the decision to hold the session in the fall has been meeting resistance in the Senate, where a lottery bill sits awaiting the call.
According to individuals not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, Bentley wants a September session with the amendment appearing on a special election ballot in January. Many feel the January date in a net negative because of low voter turnout. Those who understand the process say the session should be called in early August so the amendment can be placed on the General Election ballot in November.
Gov. Don Siegelman faced a similar choice with his lottery plan. Siegelman’s lottery bid appeared on a free-standing referendum ballot in 1999. Some of his senior advisers encouraged him to wait for the 2000 General Election when anti-lottery interests would constitute a smaller percentage of voters. He ignored their advice and the amendment failed, due to opposition turn out. Some fear Bentley may make the same mistake as Siegelman.
According to individual’s with knowledge of the situation, President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R- Anniston) has advised Bentley that waiting until September would be unwise, citing the same concerns of Siegelman’s advisors.
For a Constitutional amendment allowing for a lottery to appear on the General Election ballot in November, the drop-dead date for approving the necessary legislation is, August 24. Marsh and others continue to caution Bentley about stalling the process.
According to an administration insider, Bentley wants to “tour the state,” to promote his plan, in what the insider says is a “Bentley rehabilitation parade.” The individual is fearful that Bentley is placing his personal image above the needs of those who rely on Medicaid. “He still thinks the people love him, and he wants the glory for bringing it home.”
The major issue facing the administration is a lack of Medicaid funding, putting the Regional Care Organizations (RCO) in jeopardy. Bentley has fought hard to create the RCO’s, and with tens of millions on the line from other stake-holders, Bentley actions may well doom both Medicaid and the lottery. Again those close to the situation worry Bentley will torpedo Medicaid funding and the lottery out of arrogance.
The Governor has spoken to several advisers and lawmakers in the Legislature in recent days, giving mixed signals about his intentions.