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At Best, Lottery is a Big Gamble for Alabama

Joey Kennedy

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By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

The state doesn’t need a lottery to save Medicaid. Expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act would go a long way in doing that.

Sure, expanding Medicaid in itself won’t save Medicaid. That expansion will cover hundreds of thousands of the state’s working poor who don’t qualify for health insurance now.

But the tax revenues that result from the economic benefit of expanding Medicaid under the ACA will help the state’s beleaguered General Fund.

Sending lottery proceeds to the General Fund, though, is dangerous. There’s no telling how the Legislature will appropriate that money. Instead, the lottery funds, if we’re going to have a lottery, should be earmarked for education – perhaps college scholarships, and the state’s well-known pre-K program and reading initiative.

In the end, a better-educated population is what will turn the state around. Throwing millions of dollars at lawmakers who have already shown they are inept at budgeting is dangerous.

All this may be moot anyway.

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Any lottery proposal is being opposed by most fundamentalist religious organizations, led by the Alabama Citizens Action Program.

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Some lawmakers say they oppose the lottery because it’s a regressive tax on the poor. That’s a lot of hooey. They’ve never cared about the state’s poor, and if they truly did, they’d do something to reform Alabama hyper-regressive tax system.

Then, remember, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians aren’t too enthusiastic about a lottery, either, especially the bill proposed by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville).

As reported by Alabama Political Reporter Associate Editor Susan Britt, McClendon’s bill would allow lottery terminals at the four existing dog tracks. No way does the PCI want those electronic terminals at the racetracks. The Poarch Creek Indians don’t want the competition. And they do have clout in Montgomery.

A lottery in and of itself isn’t a bad idea, as long as lottery revenues go into the right pot. Alabama residents are already spending tons of money crossing the state lines into Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida to play those lotteries.

Makes sense to keep those lottery dollars and rip-off-scratch-offs at home, but not if the money is going to the General Fund.

Lawmakers have never been generous to Medicaid. Alabama is one of the stingiest Medicaid states in the nation.

But with a Medicaid expansion, the state benefits at least two ways: Hundreds of thousands of the working poor get insurance, and the state gets a huge economic boost from the expansion.

That’s really pretty simple. Which is probably the problem.

Plus, as state leaders have shown time and again, anything Obama is poison.

Well, except for the federal dollars we take and couldn’t live without. Or Federal Emergency Management Agency funds if we have a flood or tornado. Or the many millions of federal dollars that come into the state to support Alabama’s military bases.

Why such hypocrisy isn’t punished by voters is the real question, but Alabama voters have been known, for a long time now, to vote against their best interests.

 

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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