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Opinion | Time to stop daydreaming about a lottery

J. Pepper Bryars

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Nameplate reads J. Pepper Bryars

Lottery supporters were left saying “so close …” last week after the latest attempt to establish the game in Alabama collapsed under the weight of competing interests and power plays.

It was reminiscent of the failed lotto player, successfully matching his numbers one by one until his hopes are dashed when that final digit proves ever elusive.

But that’s what happens when you play a losing game.

We’ve already heard the arguments against a lottery, from the financial risk of budgeting on a game of chance to the moral risk of a government enticing its citizens to play a game 99.9 percent of them will lose. I’ve written about it before, and the Alabama Policy Institute has a long history of opposing the lottery.

But this time, the corrosive nature of gambling conspired to defeat itself.

Here’s what happened.

Vegas-style Casinos

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The lottery debate in recent years hasn’t centered on an actual lottery. That is, walking into a gas station and buying a paper ticket with a few numbers.

No. There’s a strong pro-gambling lobby in Alabama that seeks to take advantage of any momentum behind a lottery proposal to include measures legalizing what’s known as Class III gaming — card tables, roulette wheels and slot machines.

By including some specific language in a lottery bill, they could later artfully argue that expansion of gaming into Class III has already become law, thus giving them a green light to open casinos.

And then there are those who have stakes in existing gaming facilities such as dog tracks and electronic bingo halls. They push hard to ensure that no legislation passes that could create competition.

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Point is, those who profit from the forms of gambling we have now and who could profit from expanded forms in the future, see a simple lottery as a threat. They want to protect what they have and then expand their offerings to keep existing customers and lure even more.

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Several lawmakers who favored a lottery in the past found themselves holding out for assurances that Alabama would adopt a key provision of Obamacare by expanding Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The issue here is that while the federal government pays for the first few years of the expansion, Alabama would eventually cough up an increasingly higher percentage of an ever-growing expense.

As the bill moved through the Legislature, it was reported that lawmakers were considering paying that additional cost with lottery revenue in a bid to collect more votes.

Here’s the problem: the Legislative Service Agency estimated that the lottery would generate about $167 million a year in revenue after expenses and prizes were handed out, but estimates on the state’s share of expanding Medicaid range from $168 million to $250 million annually.

So, we’d end up passing a lottery whose revenues could be swallowed up by Obamacare.

How many politicians in Alabama want that etched into their electoral tombstone?

Money Money Money

Then there’s the question of how we’d spend whatever little is left.

Some lawmakers wanted to send it all to the general fund. Others wanted some, if not most, to go toward education. And the teacher’s union, which remains a powerful force in Montgomery, wouldn’t budge.

In the end, those who wanted more gambling, those who sought Medicaid expansion, and those aligned with the teacher’s union felt the status quo was preferable. Add them to traditional opponents of the lottery, and the bill died by a handful of votes.

Let’s hope it stays that way.

Alabama needs its leaders to focus their time on attainable solutions for problems that aren’t going away and on opportunities that might if we refuse to focus.

It’s about time they quit daydreaming about hitting the lottery.

J. Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute and host of the 1819 podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

 

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New unemployment claims increased again last week

It is the highest number of new claims recorded in a single week since July.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 14,084 new unemployment claims filed last week, up from 10,986 new claims the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

The number of new claims was the highest in a single week since July.

Of last week’s claims, 11,124 were related to COVID-19, representing 79 percent. Of the previous week’s claims, 80 percent were related to COVID-19.

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Economy

Officials offer thoughts on Huntsville Space Command decision

“We welcome Space Command to Huntsville with open arms and a good dose of southern hospitality,” the lieutenant governor said.

Charlie Walker

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Several elected officials on Wednesday offered their appreciation toward the U.S. Space Command location decision that was made for Huntsville.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth released the following statement regarding the announcement of Huntsville’s selection as the headquarters of U.S. Space Command:

“Alabama-made rockets first launched Americans into space and later carried them safely to the moon. Huntsville’s selection as the headquarters for the U.S. Space Command further solidifies Alabama as the national leader in aerospace research and development. We welcome Space Command to Huntsville with open arms and a good dose of southern hospitality.” 

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, in a statement, said:

“Today’s historic announcement that the Redstone Arsenal will be home to the permanent headquarters of the U.S. Space Force Command is fantastic news for Huntsville, the Tennessee Valley region, and the entire state of Alabama. I’m pleased that the site selection team recognized the obvious: Redstone and Space Command are a perfect fit. Alabama is already widely recognized for its important contributions to our national defense, and this decision further elevates our state as a leader in space and defense technology. I applaud the work of the Huntsville community, State leaders, the Congressional delegation, and especially my colleague Sen. Richard Shelby, for helping make this decision a reality. There will be a lot of work to do in the years ahead to turn today’s announcement into a reality on the ground, and I look forward to working closely with state and local leaders, Alabama’s Congressional delegation, and the Department of Defense to fully and efficiently implement this basing decision. It will be one of my top priorities.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, released the following statement:

“With the Pentagon’s selection of the Redstone as the new home of the U.S. Space Command, Alabama is once again blessed with new jobs, new opportunities for our citizens, and new recognition for all that our state has to offer. Since Redstone Arsenal first opened its gates, Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley have been the centerpiece of our nation’s efforts in spaceflight, aerospace, and missile defense. Bringing the headquarters of U.S. Space Command to Alabama only brightens that spotlight and enhances our prestige on a global level. As the need to defend American assets in space becomes commonplace in the 21st century and beyond, Alabama will remain firmly on the front lines of nation’s exploration and defense of the final frontier.”

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The U.S. Space Command was established in 2019, and is said to be the leading force of the Department of Defense’s space operations.

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Congress

Delegation’s actions diminish Alabama’s economic development outlook, say insiders

Brooks faces censure. Tuberville is considered by most a pariah. Only Shelby and Sewell will hold influence on Capitol Hill.

Bill Britt

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Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama., speaks Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, at a rally in support of President Donald Trump called the "Save America Rally." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, last week, along with President Donald Trump, used incendiary language to incite a group of Trump’s supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol Building — an offense that has never been undertaken by American citizens.

Add to Brooks’s insurrectionary role in the pro-Trump mob the fact that Republicans lost control of the U.S. Senate a day earlier and the combination has Alabama business leaders privately voicing concern over the state’s ability to advance economic development and secure federal funding for projects in the state.

Seven members of the Alabama congressional delegation moved to overturn the presidential election of President-elect Joe Biden by voting to not certify the Electoral College vote, thereby disenfranchise millions of lawfully cast ballots based on little more than social media-fueled conspiracy theories.

Brooks, long considered a political grand-standing rube, was joined by Congressman Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer, Barry Moore, Jerry Carl and Mike Rogers, who, with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, worked to throw the presidential election to Trump illegally.

Only Alabama’s Republican senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell followed the law.

While some Alabama voters and at least one media outlet heralded the seven as heroes, most found their actions to overturn an election reprehensible. These men are also being viewed by many in the business community as impediments to the state’s economic progress.

Businesses nationwide have begun disavowing those who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election and will withhold campaign contributions for those who took part in the spectacle.

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Alabama-based businesses are expected to follow suit with their own sanctions in the coming days.

The group of seven’s efforts to suborn insurrection seems to have awakened some business leaders to the fact that Alabama’s political extremism has finally reached a boiling point, much like Bloody Sunday, the Birmingham riots and numerous other heinous events in Alabama’s Civil Rights struggle.

Brooks finds himself facing censure in the House while the other Alabama House members are further diminished in the capacity to help their districts. And Tuberville, widely seen by Senate colleagues as unqualified for the job, is now considered by most a pariah.

Only Shelby and Sewell will continue to hold influence in the halls of power.

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APR is already hearing from Hill insiders that Alabama will pay a price for Brooks’s actions and the others’ revolt, which may very well cost billions in economic development and federal funds over the next two years.

As one insider put it: “Welcome to a new reality Alabama, enough is enough.”

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Economy

New unemployment claims spiked last week

Of those claims, 80 percent were related to COVID-19.

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There were 10,986 new unemployment claims filed online or by phone last week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of those claims, 8,734 were related to COVID-19, representing 80 percent.

The number of new claims increased from 5,506 the previous week, of which 39 percent were COVID-19-related.

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