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Legislators Skeptical of Bentley’s General Fund Lottery Proposal

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, July 27, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) released a videotape in which he announced plans for a Special Session to pass a lottery to be used as a new State General Fund (SGF) revenue stream. Gov. Bentley urged the people of Alabama to contact their State legislators and demand that they give the people the right to vote on his proposal.

Bentley’s five minute tape, however, did not actually have many of the necessary details, such as, when this vote would occur and when will legislators return to Montgomery for the Special Session. Many legislators and State leaders expressed skepticism about the Governor’s proposals.

State Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) said, “The Governor is doing the same thing he did last year, calling a Special Session of the legislature to fix a ‘crisis’ with no consensus or solid, long-term solution ready. That, in my opinion, is a path for failure which will waste time and cost the citizens of Alabama thousands of dollars. Make no mistake, this is not about Medicaid or the lottery. This is about the expansion of other forms of gaming in Alabama. Everything else can and should be addressed in the next Regular Session. And don’t forget that last year’s “crisis” and Special Session was solved by raising your taxes, which I strongly opposed.”

House Minority Leader state Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said, “If we passed a lottery bill tomorrow and got it on the ballot in time for the November election (which is the soonest we could do it), it would still be a year before the lottery started bringing in new revenue. The new budgets go into effect on October 1st of this year—more than a month before the voters could even vote on the lottery! There’s simply no way the lottery can fix the current Medicaid shortfall.”

State Representative David Standridge (R-Hayden) said, “There is no doubt our State budget is in peril. I do not personally support the lottery, nor do I believe that a lottery is the answer to all our state’s financial needs. However, I do believe in the citizens’ right to vote on important issues and would not deny the people the right to vote on a well-planned and vetted lottery bill. I will not support any legislation which is unclear on where the lottery funds will be spent or that does not contain safeguards from corruption.”

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) raised questions about a Bentley lottery, specifically: “Would there be safeguards to keep Bentley supporters from getting no-bid contracts with the lottery commission? Would there be safeguards to prevent Bentley insiders from landing $200,000 a year jobs with expense accounts and luxury state cars? Would there be safeguards to prevent the revenues from being siphoned off for Bentley pet projects?”

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Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery) said, “We are pleased that the governor has decided to entertain legalized gaming after Democrats have been pushing the issue for years. We need to legalize and tax our existing gaming facilities, as well as create a statewide lottery so our state can adequately fund and expand our struggling Medicaid system and properly support our underfunded educational system. These gaming dollars can provide stability and long-term economic streams for many of our General Fund and Education Trust Fund needs.”

State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) asked voter what is it they want to do. England said, “By now I am pretty sure that you have heard the news. Governor Bentley will be calling a Special Session at some point in the very near future to deal with the lottery. His proposal would send the revenue generated to the General Fund (essential state services) instead of to the Education Trust Fund. So I have simple question for you. Please participate and share if you do not mind. Would you vote for a lottery if the money generated by the lottery goes only to funding essential state services like Medicaid, Corrections, Mental Health, and Law Enforcement and not to education?”

Rep. Standridge said, “I have learned in the last couple of years to examine Governor Bentley’s massive proposals, whether it be $700 million in new taxes, building $800 million in new prisons, and now the lottery, with a critical eye. In fact, just like the Governor’s prison bill, the lottery proposal is long on promises and lofty aspirations, while being short on details and specifics. With the current ongoing ethics investigations in our State, all government officials should stand firmly on the side of caution by carefully studying and thoroughly vetting any lottery proposal. We must insure that we get this right for the people of the state of Alabama. We cannot allow any potential lottery to line the pockets of special interest groups or to add to the atmosphere of political corruption already in Montgomery.”

Former Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn (R) said, “Whether you’re for or against the Lottery, we can’t let Bentley use this as a distraction from his disgracing the office of Governor. It’s time to end Mr. Bentley’s playhouse of grab ass and corruption.”

Rep. Ford said, “Lottery revenue in other states has been stagnant. If the lottery brings in $300 million it’s first year, it will still be bringing in $300 million five years from now. But the costs of Medicaid and other General Fund programs will continue to increase as inflation and other factors drive up costs from year to year. Even if we put 100 percent of the lottery revenue into Medicaid, in just a few short years the costs of healthcare will have outgrown the lottery and we will be right back to where we are today. In the end, the lottery is no more of a solution than borrowing money out of the state’s savings account was in 2012.”

Sen. Bussman said, “The people have a right to vote on a stand-alone, clear, detailed lottery bill. But over the last few years, getting a stand-alone, clear, detailed lottery bill has been impossible. My support for such a bill will depend on those details. If other forms of gaming are tied to the bill in any way, I will strongly oppose the bill.”

Sen. Ross said, “It is estimated that $250 million a year leaves Alabama and goes into the coffers of nearby states where gaming is legal, such as Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. We need to benefit from the millions of dollars spent by Alabamians who patronize other states through their gaming facilities and lotteries; and we agree with Gov. Bentley that it is time to allow the people of Alabama to decide the issue once and for all by allowing them to vote. With the governor’s lead, I hope our Republican colleagues will finally support and approve gaming for Alabama.”

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Rep. Standridge said, “Like any massive legislative proposal, the devil is in the details. Until I know for sure what the Governor is proposing, it is impossible for me to take a certain stand on the issue. Due to recent events in our State, we need to be diligent to weed out corruption and not fuel it; therefore, we must avoid any possible corruption and be very explicit on how lottery funds will be distributed. While I prefer designating such funds for college scholarships and for education, I recognize the dire situation of Medicaid, law enforcement, and other critical needs facing the State at this time. To be clear, I will vote against any proposal that will line the pockets of politicians and special interest groups.”

Rep. Ford warned, “We’ve seen in other states where lottery revenue ended up not going where it was promised. Legislators sold the lottery to their state as an “education lottery” or as a fix for a general fund program like Medicaid or infrastructure (i.e., roads and bridges). Once the lottery was passed and the money started coming in, legislators would put the money in the budget where it was supposed to go, but then they would transfer other funding out of that program and use it to fund pork projects or other programs.”

Rep. Standridge said, “If we do go into a Special Session, I hope my colleagues will not only consider the Governor’s proposals, but will also consider using our time wisely to pass common sense ethics reforms that insure transparency and accountability. The people of this State are demanding honest and accountable leadership. We should not hesitate to use the upcoming Special Session as an opportunity to rid our State of corruption and to restore the people’s confidence in State government.”

Rep. Ford said, “I have introduced legislation that would create a lottery specifically for scholarships. Under my bill, lottery revenue would pay for the first two years of college for anyone who gets accepted into a public college or university. I believe we should educate for a purpose, and that purpose is getting a job.”

 

Written By

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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