INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers
During the past couple of months everywhere I go people continually ask me why in the world the legislature could not simply put the issue of whether they could vote for or against a lottery on the November ballot.
The fact that this inquiry has lingered for this long tells me that folks are upset about this travesty. They are mad at the legislature. However, the blame lies with the governor.
Indeed, the legislature met in a special session to address this issue of whether or not to put the lottery proposal on the ballot and let you vote on this lingering issue. Most polls indicate that the good people of Alabama would vote in favor of it, provided that there are no sweetheart deals, hidden chicanery or favoritism in the proposal.
Most Republicans would vote in favor of it because they are tired of their money being sent to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee to help their schools, roads and indigents rather than keep their money at home helping Alabamians.
Folks in the Heart of Dixie are going to buy lottery tickets. They are just going to buy them in our surrounding states. It was noticeable that a good many of the legislators, who represent border counties, voted against the referendum. This is similar to bygone days when most of the dry counties in the state continued to vote dry due to an ironic coalition between the bootleggers and preachers.
I seriously think that some of these border counties are reaping a bonanza in gas tax revenue from the throng of cars headed to border states to buy lottery tickets. They say that cars are backed up for miles around every state border when these super powerball extravaganzas occur.
Well, to answer your questions, it is difficult to pass anything in a congress or legislature. That is why they have the old adage, “It takes an act of Congress to get something accomplished.”
In Alabama extraordinary special sessions of the legislature are the way to go to get something accomplished if you are the governor. The legislature has to address what the governor calls the legislature into session for, it is called “the call.”
George Wallace was a master of using special sessions to get what he wanted done. He would call them repeatedly. However, before he called them, he would have his ducks in a row. He would have called you on the phone, had you visit with him one on one in his office at the capitol or at the governor’s mansion. He would know what the vote count was on his issue before he called a special session. He would not waste taxpayer money on a session without any accomplishment.
Well folks, our good ole doctor Governor Bentley ain’t George Wallace. Ole Bentley did waste money that the state General Fund does not have to squander. That is why the special session was called. It was designed to help bolster the beleaguered General Fund. Bentley failed because he did just the opposite of Wallace. He did not call any legislators. They heard about the session on the news.
Even though Gov. Bentley shoulders the blame for failure to at least put the lottery issue on the ballot, he has shown profound leadership with his creation of an advisory council on gambling. This is a prudent, rational, and unbiased approach to the entire gambling issue. Bentley is right when he says the issue of gambling in the state is something that will never end unless we come together and figure out a way for the people of this state to have a say in its resolution.
This advisory panel has done a thorough job of studying this issue. Jim Byard and Clinton Carter, two bright stars in Bentley’s cabinet, have led the comprehensive study of gaming. The commission looked at what other states are doing to reap revenue from gambling that already exists to get a clearer picture of what a lottery would generate for state coffers. They have looked at all gambits of gambling in the state, not just the lottery. They are designing a long term approach to present to the legislature. The administration has extended the panel’s deadline to report to the legislature from January 31st to June, probably because they do not want to deal with gambling during this legislative session. The final solution must allowed Alabamians to vote on this issue.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.