MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House members are already angling to earmark lottery funds for certain projects although the lottery has multiple hurdles left to clear before it even exists in the Yellowhammer State.
The Secretary of State’s office confirmed Thursday that the legislature had missed the deadline to pass a lottery bill that would put it up for a vote on the General Election ballot in November. Lawmakers continued to debate the issue, though, possibly setting up a Special Election ballot that would include a Constitutional Amendment bringing the lottery to Alabama for the first time. Secretary of State John Merrill estimated such an election would cost the state $6-8 million.
The current lottery bill being debated in the House would send the first $100 million of lottery revenue to Medicaid, then it gets a little murky after that. Members seemed to be operating under the assumption that 90 percent would go toward the General Fund Budget and 10 percent to the Education Budget. But an avalanche of amendments have been proposed, and one was approved to send to rural fire departments 1 percent of the 90 percent General Fund allocation.
The process sparked familiar criticism from conservative lawmakers who have characterized the lottery as little more than a way to grow the size of state government.
“We’re spending money we haven’t raised from a lottery we haven’t passed,” State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise), who opposes the lottery, said at the mic on the House floor.
Earmarks have been a longtime problem with Alabama’s budgeting process.
The state earmarks over 90 percent of its tax revenue, far more than any other state in the country, meaning that budgeters have very little flexibility when shortfalls emerge, as they have recently in the state’s exploding Medicaid program.
If the House passes a lottery bill that the Senate agrees to and the governor signs, a statewide vote of the people in a Special Election would determine whether Alabama would have a state sponsored lottery. If it clears all of those hurdles, it appears that whatever revenue it brings in will be spent long before it even enters state coffers.