Tue Feb 09 08:25:09 PST 2016
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Lotto In Alabama: Lawmakers say this could be the year
Ken Curtis

Alabama lawmakers could be more receptive this year to a state operated lottery as a way to increase revenue. However, even if one of two proposed constitutional amendments wins legislative and voter approval, it will likely still be at least two years before the first dollars rolls in. “We’re at a time when we need to put (a referendum) out there and let the people decide. From the time I was first elected (in 2010) my position has not changed,” said Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva). Two bills are expected to be debated during the upcoming legislative session that begins February 2. The one may have the most traction was announced last week by State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville). “If grass roots are important then I’ve never seen stronger grass roots (for a lottery) other than a texting and driving bill,” said McClendon during a January 12 press conference. He cites polls he said show between 70 and 90 percent of Alabamians favor a lottery. What makes McClendon’s bill unique is that it doesn’t specify how a lottery would be operated or how the proceeds would be allocated. “Lawmakers would have to fill in the fine print, fill in the details.” McClendon said that would likely happen during next year’s legislative session. “I think we would have to put it in the general fund budget,” Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) said. He notes Georgia first earmarked its lottery proceeds exclusively to college scholarships but later amended the bill because of a struggling operating budget. Clouse is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Chesteen, a strong education advocate, agrees with Clouse that the general fund is starving for revenue. “I don’t know that a lottery is going to solve the (funding) problem. Projections may be overstated but when we keep coming into session every year talking about a budget shortfall let’s get it out there and let the people decide.” Clouse points out that, even if a lottery receives final approval, it will likely be 2018 before one can be implemented. A vote on a constitutional amendment would be held in November at the same time as the presidential election. That means the way the operational model—including earmarking lottery revenue--would likely take several months to implement and not help the FY 2017 budget that appears about $300-million short of what’s needed state agencies level funded. A constitutional amendment must receive 60 percent approval in both the House and Senate. The House version of McClendon’s bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Alan Harper (R-Northport). The other pending bill is sponsored by Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). It would fund education. Despite the polls McClendon said he’s seen, a lottery proposal put on the ballot in 1999 was defeated by a 54-49 vote.

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