Lottery not perfect, but best option now

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2016


For the last five years I have been asked on numerous occasions how I felt about a statewide lottery in Alabama. I’ve said so many times since first running for Governor in 2010, I don’t believe a lottery is the best way to fund state government, but I won’t stand in the way of letting the people vote for one, if given the opportunity.

Governor-Robert-BentleyOnce a reporter asked me why I felt like a lottery wasn’t the ideal choice to pay for essential state services, like healthcare for poor children, the disabled and the elderly. I told that reporter a lottery is an idea whose time had come and gone like a fashion trend. Many states surrounding Alabama created lotteries years ago, and they’ve enjoyed much success. I likened a lottery to a Leisure suit, a trend that was once all the rage in its heyday, but maybe had lost its luster in modern times.

Well, sometimes when the leisure suit is the only thing you’ve got left hanging in the closet, you have to suck in your gut, and squeeze into that thing, no matter how ill-fitting it may be.

And that’s where we find ourselves as a state today, staring at a last, best option to pay for the most basic services a state must provide. At bare minimum, we must care for our truly vulnerable. With no steady revenue stream to fund basic health care for babies born into poverty, or to help our people who have disabilities get the care they need to live a productive life, we are left with the gut-wrenching decision to cut these services, or find a way to pay for them.

I will not, as your governor and as a physician, watch as our most helpless and vulnerable people go without a doctor’s care. 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.

We have gotten to this point as a state, because we have skated by year after year by finding one-time money to pay for things. It’s like taking your tax refund check to pay this month’s bills. Once that refund is spent, you still have to come up with a way to pay next month’s bills.

And we’ve been pretty good at getting by. First, when I was elected, we started cutting wasteful spending. We went right at state government with a hatchet, so much so that we actually saved taxpayers over a billion dollars annually.

And then, in 2012 we actually asked you, the taxpayers to let us go in debt to pay our bills. And you voted yes, and allowed your state government to borrow over $400 million dollars. Like any “one-time money” quick fix, that money is gone. And what’s more, we have to pay it back.

We attempted to pass enough fair, taxes to create steady revenue, but your legislators said last year that’s not the answer.

Without steady, additional revenue the Legislature, when it figures out how to balance the budget each year, keeps cutting.

No, a lottery may not be the perfect way to help children who are born into poverty pay for basic medical treatment. But at this hour, exhausting all options, it’s the best leisure suit we’ve got.


Gov. Robert Bentley has called a special session of the Alabama legislature for Aug. 15.