By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, August 19, 2016, after three days spent debating a much more ambitious lottery proposal, the Senate finally agreed to pass a lottery bill similar to the one first asked for by Governor Robert Bentley (R).
Senate Bill 3 passed 21 to 12.
A bipartisan group of Senators including Beasley, Blackwell, Coleman-Madison, Dial, Dunn, Figures, Holley, Holtzclaw, Livingston, Marsh, McClendon, Melson, Reed, Ross, Sanford, Scofield, Singleton, Smitherman, Ward, Whatley, and Williams voted for the controversial constitutional measure amending Alabama’s Constitution.
Republicans: Albritton, Allen, Brewbaker, Bussman, Chambliss, Hightower, Glover, Orr, Pittman, and Waggoner were joined by independent Harri Anne Smith and Democrat Hank Sanders in voting no to SB3.
Freshmen Republican Senators Shay Shelnutt and Dr. Larry Stutts were not present to take either side.
Gov. Bentley had originally wanted 100 percent of the proceeds from the lottery after costs and prizes to go to the State General Fund (SGF). The Senate decided instead that 90 percent would go to the General Fund, and ten percent will go to the education trust fund. An amendment for a more balanced 60:40 split was defeated. Unlike last time nobody’s children are being promised college scholarships in this bill.
A jubilant Gov. Bentley responded to the news, “It’s a relief. In fact, I think I am going just to go home tonight and for the first time just relax. And maybe tomorrow I am not going to think of anything, except cutting grass.”
Senator Jim McClendon successfully shepherded SB3 through the Senate after his first attempt, SB11 failed on Thursday. SB11 would have also allowed all the dog tracks to have something he called virtual lottery machines (VLMs). Opponents called them slot machines and killed that bill after a cloture vote.
Sen. McClendon called SB3, “A much simpler, less complex version,” of the lottery than SB11 was.
McClendon said after Thursday’s defeat of SB11, “It is my commitment to you, the voters, to do everything I can to allow you to make the final decision on having an Alabama lottery. Some lawmakers just don’t trust your judgment. Thanks for all the support you have given me.”
Sen. Paul L Sanford (R-Huntsville) said, “I voted yes. I did put an amendment that the State could not use Lottery proceeds to advertise for the lottery. 90% to General Find & 10% to Education. Restrictions on who may serve on the commission are in the bill.”
Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Lee County) said, “I’m not a lottery fan and I’m disappointed we didn’t reserve some of the dollars for our retirees and our teachers, but I’m glad we did at least get some of the dollars going towards health care – something that benefits us all. More to discuss and this bill is off to the House – and from there the people of AL will have a pretty good bill to either vote up or down.”
Senate Minority Leader Quinton T. Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery) said, “Today, the Alabama Senate in a bipartisan effort heard the voices of the people of the state of Alabama. We are giving the people in the state of Alabama what they’ve been asking for, which is an opportunity to vote on the lottery.”
During the extensive debate on the Senate floor, Ross reminded his colleagues that merely living in Alabama is a “gamble”: “Taking what they proclaim to be the moral high road against gambling, they fail to realize it is a gamble to live in Alabama each day for those who have to choose between food and medicine, and for those who do not have access to health care,” Ross stated.
Probably the biggest surprise “yes” vote was Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City). Williams in the past has been a strong opponent of expanding gambling in Alabama and now he is a “yes” vote for a state-run lottery…which many experts have called a tax on the poor and people who don’t understand math.
The Conservative Christians of Alabama said in a statement: “The Lottery hurts the poor! It is a regressive tax on poor people which takes away money they need for food, housing, and basic expenses. 21 senators voted to harm and steal from the poorest people of the state in order to pretend to address their own overspending.”
One Republican source told the Alabama Political Reporter that Sen. Williams was the surprise “flip” in the group that made passage possible. Sen. Williams reportedly told the Caucus that he could not vote for a lottery unless the legislature passed budget reform. Well, budget reform has not been discussed on the floor of either House. Several $billion of state revenues remain earmarked outside of the budgeting process, over 90 percent of state revenues are earmarked before they ever get to Montgomery (far more than in any other state), and the money that actually is available in the budgeting process is split among two budgets (the SGF and ETF), and the governor lacks a line item veto. No budget reforms of any kind were passed as amendments to this, so why did Sen. Williams flip his public position on expanding gambling into Alabama’s communities?
The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives. They will return at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, August 23. There are seven legislative days left in this special session.
If the House approves the amendment then at some point the people of Alabama will get to vote on whether or not they support Gov. Bentley’s lottery.