Sunday, 14 August 2016 06:48
MONTGOMERY – Several local lawmakers say they could support letting Alabamians decide whether the state has a lottery, and whether Powerball and Mega Millions tickets are sold locally.
But they say they’re unlikely to support any effort to allow electronic games at several sites around the state.
The Legislature returns to the Statehouse on Monday to debate lottery legislation and likely other possible revenue fixes for the state. More money for the state Medicaid Agency in 2017 is a priority.
Besides a lottery proposal, Gov. Robert Bentley’s office last week said his call – the official list of items to be addressed in the session – would include the dividing up of the state’s $1 billion BP settlement. The call won’t be released until Monday, his office said.
Bentley’s three-page lottery proposal calls for the creation of a lottery commission, appointed by the governor, and participation in interstate games like Powerball, as well as state-run games. He’s said it would generate about $225 million a year, and he wants it dedicated to the General Fund.
A competing bill to be introduced by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, would allow for the lottery as well as electronic games at four dog tracks in the state. He’s said his proposal will generate more money than Bentley’s, and revenue from the electronic games would be available sooner than lotto money.
McClendon wants $100 million of the revenue to go in the state education budget.
Longtime lawmaker Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, on Friday said the chances of the Legislature reaching an agreement on a lottery seemed unlikely, and the BP settlement was a better bet for passage.
Any lottery proposal would have to be approved by voters. To get it on the Nov. 8 ballot, lawmakers would have to agree on a proposal by Aug. 24. And because it’s a constitutional amendment, it has to pass both chambers on a three-fifths vote.
The TimesDaily asked local lawmakers last week what they would and wouldn’t support in lottery or gaming legislation.
Some said they’d let the people vote on a “simple” lottery bill. Others said they wouldn’t support any type of lottery or gaming bill. None wanted the electronic games in McClendon’s bill.
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville
Greer said he would vote for a lottery bill if the revenue isn’t earmarked.
“But I want a guarantee there isn’t a lot of overhead expenses,” he said. “Let’s get the money where it needs to go.”
Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia
“I support the people having the right to vote on a lottery; however, the details are what is going to lead me to vote yes or no,” Black said. Those details include how the money will be spent.
“Just saying (revenue will go to the) General Fund is too broad for me; you’re going to have to say which agencies.”
He’d also prefer the education budget see at least some of that revenue.
And he’d like a “clean” lottery bill without the video lottery terminals in McClendon’s proposal.
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill
Pettus said the majority of people he’s talked to want to be able to vote on a lottery.
“They don’t want gaming, they want a simple lottery bill,” he said. “From what I’ve read (about Bentley’s proposal) I think I could vote to let the people vote.”
Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence
Melson is on the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee, which will get the first vote on any lottery legislation.
He has said he’s not interested in expanding gaming in the state, but he’d consider sending a lottery referendum to the public if lottery revenue was dedicated to the General Fund.
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia
Stutts said he’ll have to see the proposals in writing, but based on what he’s read so far, probably won’t support any of them.
“I don’t think a lottery fixes any of our fundamental problems, and I’m opposed to just putting more money in a broken system,” Stutts said.
He said projections show that Medicaid’s costs are going to continue to grow and in a few years “we’re right back where we started.”
Meanwhile, there are “moving parts” in the conversation about using the state’s BP money to shore up budget shortfalls.
Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton
“I’m opposed to the lottery,” Johnson said. “I’m probably the only one who tells you that straight out.”
Johnson is vice chairman of the House General Fund committee. His district includes eastern Franklin County.
He said he understands the state loses some revenue when people buy lottery tickets across statelines, but thinks selling the tickets here would mean people have less money to spend on other things, which would impact tax revenues.
“We’d go from dollars going out of state on a small scale to dollars going out of our local economies on a large scale,” he said. “And it’s coming from people who can least afford it, as a rule.”
He sees expanded gaming as a deal breaker from some lawmakers who would otherwise support a lottery bill.
About the BP money, Johnson said it’s possible that a compromise is reached on how much of the money is spent on debt repayment, and how much is spent on infrastructure in south Alabama.
“Is there perfect harmony on the BP settlement, no?” he said. “Could a majority come to some agreeable term? I’d say that’s a possibility.
“Given enough time, sometimes you work things out.”