By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, August 5, 2016, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) introduced his lottery proposal. Under the Bentley plan all of the proceeds from Bentley’s Alabama Lottery shall be applied first to the payment of the expenses of administering and operating the Alabama Lottery by the Lottery Commission and the payment of all prizes. The balance of the proceeds shall be deposited in the State General Fund for the ordinary expenses of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial departments of the State and for principal and interest payments on the public debt.
Essentially, the Bentley lottery is a General Fund lottery. It can go to Medicaid, it could go to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, it could go to build Bentley’s $800 million prison construction program, it could go for mental health, it could go for the courts, it could go for economic incentives for Governor’s to lure industries to Alabama. Once in the State General Fund (SGF) it could go to any of over a hundred State agencies at the discretion of the Alabama legislature in that legislative year.
Where it can’t go is education: not for scholarships, not for teacher pay raises, not for textbooks, or for school technology. That would be unconstitutional, under Gov. Bentley’s plan.
The lottery would be run by a seven member lottery commission appointed by the Governor and amendment contains wording that would make sure that electronic bingo remains illegal in Alabama: “Nothing in this amendment affects, prohibits, or limits any activity which was legal at the time this amendment becomes effective, including, without limitation, pari-mutuel betting and nonprofit, traditional bingo, as provided for by specific law or laws. Further, nothing in this amendment authorizes any other activity beyond the Alabama Lottery authorized by this amendment.”
Many normal lottery supporters including Governor Don Siegelman (D) and House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) have come out against Gov. Bentley’s lottery proposal.
Former Gov. Siegelman wrote, “I am not even sure how much money a lottery would yield, but I do know this, whatever it might raise should go to educate our children and voters should not let the Governor or Alabama Legislature get their hands on a penny of it. So I say, Maybe a lottery, but not this lottery.”
The timing of the lottery referendum has also come under fire. Many Republican strategists are worried that putting a lottery on the November 8 presidential election ballot could lead to a surge in Democratic voter participation. If correct this could be bad news for Republican candidates up and down the ballot.
Jefferson County Republican Party Chair Sallie Bryant told the Alabama Media Group, “I realize there may be some of you who support having a lottery, and I want to assure you that I respect your position on this matter, but it would be far better for the Republican Party, especially in Jefferson County, if a vote were postponed to later.”
Bryant and other Republican officials want the lottery moved to its own special referendum ballot in January. Some have suggested postponing a lottery vote until the 2018 party primaries.
Many have expressed skepticism that any lottery is going to pass out of the legislature.
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) wrote recently on the lottery, “I can’t tell you how I am going to vote when the time comes. Any lottery proposal introduced during the August 15th special session has a LONG way to go before it reaches the ballot in November and right now I am not optimistic that anything will pass at all.”
The Bentley lottery will not be the only lottery brought before the legislature. House Minority Leader Craig Ford has already introduced a bill establishing a lottery where the proceeds go for scholarships. Sources have told the Alabama Political Reporter that a third lottery proposal is also being written by legislators and will be introduced before the session begins.
Under Alabama’s 1901 Constitution, a special session can last only 30 days and there can be only a maximum of ten legislative days in that session. The Alabama Political Reporter has been told by sources that when the special session begins on August 15 they plan to move fast and furious with legislative sessions on Monday August the 15, Tuesday the 16, Wednesday the 17, Thursday the 18, Friday the 19, and Saturday, August the 20. That will prevent legislators from going back home and hearing from constituents and will move this thing so fast that organized opposition will not have time to react to what is coming down the tracks.