As the final regular legislative session of the quadrennium evolves, it is apparent that the legislature will not touch any substantive or controversial issues, but simply pass the budgets and go home to campaign. It is election year in the Heart of Dixie.
If legislators are listening to their constituents, they are hearing one thing – Alabamians want their legislators to allow them the right to vote on receiving their fair share of the money from gambling in Alabama. They are simply sick and tired of their money going to Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee while Alabamians are paying for those states’ schools, roads and bridges.
You can bet your bottom dollar that if a clean lottery/sports betting referendum were to be placed on this November’s ballot, it would pass in a New York minute. Even the most conservative folks in our state would vote for it, if for only one reason – they want their money to stay in state. Every time there is one of these high dollar powerball national drawings, every convenience store on our border in the aforementioned bordering sister states’ parking lots are jammed with Alabamians clamoring to buy a lottery ticket.
Governor Kay Ivey has had a very accomplished five-year reign as Governor. The Rebuild Alabama road, bridge and infrastructure program was big and much needed. Most of her successes have been housekeeping chores that required a governor, who was willing to put the state first and get these necessary projects accomplished instead of kicking the can down the road like some of her predecessors. However, these accomplishments will not give her a legacy issue that 50 to 100 years from now folks can point to and say Kay Ivey has a legacy.
The legacy awaiting Governor Ivey is the creation of a constitutional amendment that garners the tremendous amount of money spent on gambling in Alabama and also a Gambling Regulatory Commission to monitor and police gaming. You are talking about some real money for Alabama. Conservative estimates are $700 million a year to the state. In addition, there would be 12,000 new jobs.
The legislature and governor by themselves cannot achieve this reaping of the gambling gold mine. It would have to be approved by you – the voters of Alabama – in a Constitutional Amendment. If polling is correct, it would pass 65-35. With it being a constitutional amendment, it needs a three-fifths vote in the legislature to place the initiative on the ballot. The issue was discussed, extensively, and voted on in the 2021 session. It passed in the Senate but never was never put to a vote in the House.
The Senate would pass it again. There were 23 votes for the constitutional amendment and only 21 were needed for passage. There needs to be 63 votes in the 105 member House to place the amendment on the ballot in this year’s November general election.
Therefore, the question is will it be placed on the ballot this year for Alabamians to vote to reap this financial bonanza? In order to pass the constitutional amendment to allow Alabamians to vote on a lottery and expanded gambling, Governor Ivey probably will need to weigh in with both feet and promote the issue in a special session.
Because it is an election year, the legislature probably will not want to deal with the issue until after the elections. The primary election is May 24. The current regular session will end in April, so gambling probably will not be dealt with in this regular session. Therefore, the best way to get the amendment on the ballot is a special session during the month of June because it has to be done by the first of July to get on the November ballot. However, with most legislators being unopposed they may take the bull by the horns and pass the constitutional amendment for you to vote on in November without the need for a special session.
In observing the legislature, it is bittersweet seeing Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon presiding over probably his last session as Speaker. He has done an excellent job as speaker. He is a kind, even tempered gentleman, who exudes integrity. He is decisive and fair, and you can tell he is a man of faith who truly cares about the House members, both Republicans and Democrats.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.