The gala and festivities of the gubernatorial swearing in are all wrapped up. Gov. Kay Ivey has been sworn in for another four year term. The legislators, all 140, are all sworn in soon after the general election victories in November. Therefore, they all are ready to get down to business.
The regular session begins next week. This inaugural first-year regular session has historically been the year when major controversial substantive issues are addressed. Legislators will not face election for four more years and Gov. Ivey is term-limited and will probably never face voters of Alabama again. Therefore, this first year is when the tough challenges will be tackled.
Usually there is some urgent pressing financial problems facing the governor and Legislature.
However, as this new quadrennium begins, the state coffers are in pretty good shape. A lot of credit for this financial stability can be credited to wise and prudent budgeting by past legislative budget committee leaders, who for the most part are all back in command in both chambers.
An issue that should be addressed is the garnering of gaming dollars that Alabamians are
spending on lottery tickets and sports betting in surrounding states. We need to keep this money in state for our educational and Medicaid funding rather than giving our money to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Georgia has benefitted from an education lottery for close to 30 years. Alabamians, to a large degree, have paid for a good many Georgia students free college education over the last three decades. It is well known and documented that the most lottery tickets sold in the states of Florida and Georgia are sold at locations on the Alabama border. Alabama television stations consistently interview Alabamians at these state border locations.
These Alabama folks are frustrated to say the least that they have had to drive hundreds of miles to give their money to our sister states. They know that we are not that much richer than Florida or Georgia to be able to subsidize their state governments and educate their children.
Mississippi has every kind of gambling imaginable. They fund a good portion of their state
finances on their casinos. Thousands of Alabamians flock to these casinos every year to help Mississippi surpass us in rankings. Mississippi has moved out of the 50th spot in several categories, thanks primarily to gaming dollars, which Alabamians have contributed to, significantly.
Folks, when one of these major Power Ball, jackpot lotteries occur where there are billions of dollars to be won, my e-mail lights up with inquiries as to why they cannot participate with a convenience store in Alabama. They ask, “why is my money going out of state? Why am I in a line and traffic jam on the Florida/Georgia border?” My present response is, “Talk with your state representative or state senator. All they have to do is simply vote to let you vote on the issue.”
In order for Alabama to participate, it cannot be accomplished by a simple legislative act. It takes a constitutional act that must be voted on and approved by a vote of the people. A
constitutional amendment needs 21 votes in the 35-member State Senate and 63 votes in the 105-member State House of Representatives.
The State Senate returns almost intact. Gov. Ivey had a comprehensive gaming measure that passed in the Senate last year. Therefore, the votes are probably there for passage in the upper body. The governor was only a few votes short in the House.
There are several new faces in that chamber. The governor will need to get behind this issue with both feet. A special session may be needed to highlight the gravitas and importance of garnering gaming dollars for Alabama. We are only one of five states that get no revenue from gaming.
As a former legislator, I would have a hard time coming home and telling my constituents that I voted against giving them the right to vote on an important constitutional amendment that could raise a lot of money for the state. You can bet your bottom dollar that if a lottery/gaming referendum is placed on the ballot, it will pass in a New York minute. Even the most conservative folks in our state would vote for it, if for only one reason – they are sick and tired of Alabamians’ money going to our neighboring states.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers’ column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.