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Opinion | As the lottery push moves forward, a suggestion for a better bill

Josh Moon

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Now, the teachers have caught on.

On Wednesday, social media posts from a number of teachers groups around Alabama highlighted the fact that a lottery bill set for a vote on Thursday in the state Senate offered zero dollars for education. Those social media posts also included the phone numbers for lawmakers, and by late Wednesday afternoon, calls to the Alabama State House had picked up.

“This bill does NOTHING for education,” said one of the more popular Facebook posts. “Wasn’t this supposed to be an ‘education lottery,’ like in other states?”

Yes, it was.

And no, it’s not.

The lottery bill that will be debated in the Senate on Thursday is a mess of a bill. From pushing games that will likely be obsolete in less than a decade to limiting tax revenues to not putting a dime into education, the “paper only” lottery bill sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton and pushed by Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh is terrible.

Which is why Thursday, when Albritton’s bill hits the floor (assuming Marsh doesn’t pull it), it will be a circus.

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There are at least three substitute bills that senators are planning to introduce. One will be the bill sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon that would allow all lottery-related games, including allowing for video lottery terminals to be played at four state dog tracks.

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Multiple senators told APR this week that McClendon’s bill is actually a bit more popular among the body, because it brings in more revenue ($500 million-plus annually compared to around $160 million from Albritton’s bill) and allows lawmakers to better mold both the revenue sharing portions and the oversight (McClendon’s bill also establishes a gaming commission).

That gaming commission also could come in handy down the road should lawmakers want to legalize sports wagering in the state.

There are also a number of amendments planned should the substitute bills fail to pass.

“Everyone has an amendment, I believe,” one lobbyist joked on Wednesday.

And with that being the case, allow me to offer one — one that will give a lottery bill a decent chance to pass.

First and foremost, before we get to the amendment, you need to start with a bill that’s fair to Alabama citizens. Albritton’s is not.

I’m sorry, but don’t tell me that we’re going to expand gaming at Indian casinos while we make zero dollars from Indian gaming and expect me to be OK with that. There’s a reason we tax gaming at high rates, just like we do alcohol and cigarettes. It causes problems that society has to deal with, and we need the revenue to do so.

So, let’s go from there — whether that’s McClendon’s bill or a similar piece of legislation that allows commercial casinos to operate the same games as the Poarch Creeks.

To that bill, add an amendment that divides up revenue in a manner that establishes a scholarship program for all students under a certain income threshold and who graduate high school with a B average or better. Those students can attend in-state schools for free.

Additionally, like Tennessee, make all two-year colleges free for in-state students. And expand Alabama’s pre-K program to all students and restart the state’s Reading Initiative.

And then, partner with the Alabama Works program and businesses around the state to expand job training, tech schools and computer coding courses in high schools and two-year colleges. And offer free certification programs and technical training programs to state residents.

Make Alabama the most job-ready state in America, no matter what type of job a person is seeking. Make it impossible for businesses to not want to relocate here. Make it so our kids have the tools and resources to start the billion-dollar companies.

All of a sudden, a lottery has not only paid for the social ills, it’s transformed the state.

Who could be against such a bill?

 

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