Last week I received an email that included the gaming legislation we have all been hearing so much about. For many of my colleagues, whether they vote yes or no, this will be the most difficult vote they make all session. Whether gaming conflicts with personal values or awarding licenses in the state is an uncomfortable proposition, this is an issue that is about as divisive as they come.
When I’m not down in Montgomery serving as a member of the House, I’m back home in Huntsville working in corporate asset management. Suffice it to say that I’m an individual who is driven by numbers and hard data. After reviewing the numbers associated with the gaming bill, I feel this is a strong proposal that could benefit the people of Alabama on several fronts.
When it comes to educating the next generation, the lottery proposal within this legislation offers momentous opportunity. Under this proposal, every dollar generated from the lottery will go to the state’s Education Trust Fund, which is where public education receives the bulk of its funding every year. It will go through an annual appropriation to fund priority items like school safety, a last-dollar scholarship program for students enrolled in community college, technical programs, and dual enrollment – all of which are significant drivers of student success. The current projections have the lottery alone creating almost $200 million in revenue that will solely benefit public education. Any opportunity we have to provide Alabama’s students with a better education is one that warrants serious consideration. For me, that’s what will earn my vote if this bill makes its way to the House floor.
On the other hand, we have the distribution of gaming revenue, which is projected to be as high as $422 million per year. Proceeds will first be applied to the expenses associated with running the Gaming Commission, meaning that taxpayers will have no obligation placed upon them to fund this government entity. The remaining revenue will then be subject to an annual supplemental appropriation to support priorities like mental health, infrastructure, veteran support, rural health care, and more. The legislation offers lawmakers flexibility in allocating these dollars, so as the needs for our state shift, the funding could move to meet them.
Another hard metric I’ve seen associated with this issue is polling. I recently saw a poll conducted by Gray TV showing that 71 percent of Alabamians support the creation of a state lottery and the regulation and taxation of gaming to support issues like education and health care. Another poll from late last year showed 91 percent of Alabamians support the legislature allowing the people of Alabama to vote on this issue and 89 percent support legislation that makes all gaming facilities in Alabama pay taxes to the state. As legislators, our biggest responsibility is representing the needs of our 45,000-plus constituents. I think the data overwhelmingly suggests that they want to vote on this issue, one way or the other, and I want to help them have that opportunity.
We have a chance to address a complex issue that’s been contentious and detrimental for decades and turn it into something that will serve as a catalyst for good. I’ve studied and I’ve heard both sides of the debate from people I respect, and I understand how difficult it is to reach a conclusion on this issue. That said, we were sent by our voters to take on heavy lifts and do our part today to create better tomorrows in Alabama, and that’s what I plan to do on the issue of gaming.