What they didn’t tell you: Alabama lawmakers were only presented with half a lottery plan
When Gov. Robert Bentley summoned lawmakers for a special session to consider the creation of a state lottery, I traveled to Montgomery with apprehension as what the Governor was up to. Soon after the debate began, however, it quickly became obvious that the real fiscal and systemic problems problems facing Alabama’s state government cannot be solved by a state lottery, and certainly not by the one that was presented to us.
As a result, I voted against placing the lottery on a referendum ballot and would like to outline just a few of the facts that led to my decision.
Creating a lottery requires two pieces of legislation, a constitutional amendment that allows that particular form of gambling to exist, and “enabling legislation” that spells out in vivid detail exactly how it would operate. The Legislature was provided only the constitutional amendment for consideration, and we were told that enabling legislation would be introduced sometime next year, after the referendum vote.
Passing an open-ended, blank-check constitutional amendment is dangerous and demands a level of trust that I, quite frankly, do not believe Montgomery has earned. Once the amendment is passed, the enabling legislation that followed could open the door to corruption, cronyism, and broken promises with absolutely no accountability to the citizens of our state.
You cannot bake a cake with just one ingredient – you must have all of them – and I do not believe that we can create a fair, honest, and well-run lottery with just one piece of the necessary legislation, we must have all of them, as well. The amendment and the enabling legislation must travel together.
The legislation submitted to us did not even have an accompanying fiscal note, which is usually required on measures we consider, so there is no way to determine how much it would cost to set up the lottery, the amount of the annual operating costs, or even a good barometer of how much it would add to state coffers each year. You cannot open any successful business without a detailed financial plan, and a lottery is no different.
But the few details that were provided to us cause even greater concern.
While most states dedicate most, if not all, of their lottery revenues to public education needs and programs, the Alabama lottery would send only 10% of its profit into our children’s classrooms. Instead, the dollars would be earmarked directly toward the state Medicaid program and other non-education agencies. The costs of providing Medicaid services in Alabama are already spiraling out-of-control, and funneling a dedicated stream of lottery revenues to the agency removes any incentive for spending to be reduced or efficiencies to be implemented.
In addition, this magic elixir for our financial problems that is being peddled to us like a bottle of snake oil will not have any effect for the next several years. Not one dime of revenue will be realized until 2018, and even then, the undetermined start up costs that I mentioned earlier could swallow any expected profits.
The experiences of other states provide even more evidence that the lottery is not a panacea for fiscal ills. Nine of the 10 states with the most insolvent budgets in the nation, for example, have lotteries. In Illinois, state lawmakers even had to borrow money in order to pay the winners of its lottery their promised awards.
Other questions about how the lottery would affect the overall economy and whether this amendment, as written, would allow forms of Las Vegas-style gambling to operate in Alabama remain unanswered.
I believe more than ever that Alabama can solve its financial problems only by implementing conservative principles, like un-earmarking the tax dollars we currently collect and reforming the way we draft the budget.
It is disappointing that we were summoned into special session with a desperate, eleventh hour deadline and presented with only half of a lottery plan that raised more questions than answers. Given time, I think the Legislature would be able to craft a lottery amendment worthy of consideration, but this one certainly did not meet that standard.
A constitutional amendment is difficult, if not impossible, to adjust once it is ratified, so we must be extremely careful before placing it on your ballot.
For these and other reasons, I voted against the lottery amendment, and I felt it important to let you know why.
Republican Barry Moore represents District 91 in the Alabama House of Representatives