Governor to call special session for lottery

Published 12:02 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gov. Robert Bentley yesterday announced he will call the legislature into session to consider a lottery as a means of fixing Alabama’s funding woes.

The governor was not specific about his proposal, but said a lottery is expected to generate $225 million per year. At present, the state’s Medicaid budget is underfunded by $85 million for the 2017 fiscal year, and the state Medicaid Agency has already announced cuts to physicians beginning Aug. 1.

Medicaid is a joint state-and-federal health care program for the state’s poorest people. Approximately 1 million Alabamians – many of them children – receive Medicaid benefits, the majority of which are paid for by the federal government. For every $1 the state cuts from Medicaid, it loses $2 in federal aid.

In an op-ed released to newspapers yesterday afternoon, Bentley, a retired physician, said he cannot watch children go without health care.

“I will not, as your governor and as a physician, watch as our most helpless and vulnerable people go without a doctor’s care,” he wrote. “I can’t bear to think of the half-million children who, through no fault of their own, are born into poverty and have no way to get basic medical treatment they need to grow healthy and strong.”

The state also needs additional funding for mental health, prisons, and law enforcement.

Bentley did not say when he would call the special session, but the legislature would have to approve a bill by Aug. 24 to get it on the November General Election ballot. He also did not give many details on his proposal, but said it will include a statewide lottery commission to oversee lottery operations.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said late yesterday he spoke with a number of legislators yesterday about the governor’s plan, but no one has yet seen the proposed legislation.

The governor’s announcement came in a short video in which he discussed the plans. Bentley said his proposal will allow voters to decide in November whether or not to approval a constitutional amendment for a lottery.

Alabama is one of only six states that do not have a lottery. Others are Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Mississippi.