MONTGOMERY, ALa. — Alabama House General Fund Budget chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) has signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would allow a state-wide referendum on a lottery, making him the only Republican so far to officially join forces with House Democrats on one of their signature agenda items.
The amendment would need the support of at least 30 additional Republicans in the House and 13 in the Senate to achieve the three-fifths majority needed to send the legislation to a vote of the public.
“We’re just looking at anything to raise funds,” Clouse told AL.com, adding that he has spoken to several other Republicans who also believe Alabamians should vote on whether or not to institute a state lottery.
The lottery bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden), would be earmarked to fund Alabama’s Medicaid program. A separate piece of lottery legislation would have funds go toward college scholarships for Alabamian teens with A/B averages, similar to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship.
Rep. Ford has sponsored lottery legislation for the last several years, but believes this session’s scramble to fill the estimated $260 million hole in the general fund may offer the best chance he’s seen—especially since the bill has the support of the Republican budget chairman.
Rep. Clouse said he has long supported the idea of a state lottery, revealing that he supported Governor Siegelman’s proposal in 1999 (which failed by 8 points).
Opponents of a state based lotto say it is a “voluntary tax” on the poor, who are much more likely to gamble, and it would open up communities to more corruption, and give the state another unreliable source of income to spend unwisely.
Rep. Ford and other proponents of the lottery argue that Alabamians are already playing the game, but are traveling to the neighboring state (all four of Alabama’s neighbors have a state lottery) and spending their money there.
“It’s time we keep Alabama money in our state,” Ford said.
Governor Bentley revealed Thursday that he hasn’t closed the door on the possibility a gambling compact with Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians that would allow the Creek’s casinos to have table games such as poker and blackjack in return for a cut of revenues, but reiterated today that any gambling legislation wouldn’t fund the government quickly enough.
“Do I believe in the people’s right to vote? Yes, I do. But we cannot depend on gambling to fund state government,” Bentley said.
Ultimately, Governor Bentley doesn’t have to approve proposed amendments before they are voted on by the public, but he does have to sign off on a budget.
Rep. Clouse is also carrying one of the Governor’s tax increase bills—an increase on the tax levied on car purchases and rentals, though Clouse negotiated the increase down from 2 percent to 1 percent.
“We’re just looking at anything to raise funds,” Clouse said.
With roughly two-thirds of the legislature’s session left, none of the Governor’s eight tax increase bills have gained any momentum.
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— Elizabeth BeShears (@LizEBeesh) January 21, 2015