Session on lottery starts Monday

Published 12:21 am Saturday, August 13, 2016

Legislators waiting on Bentley’s official call; BP funds could help

Legislators preparing to convene in special session next week aren’t sure what to expect, as Gov. Robert Bentley had not issued the official call as of later Friday afternoon.

Bentley announced in July he would call the legislature into session on Mon., Aug. 15, to consider a state lottery. He also has released proposed legislation to establishing a state lottery.

But until the call, legislators aren’t sure what else might be brought up. The legislature can only consider items included in a governor’s call when meeting in special session.

“I think we’ll probably also be taking up the BP settlement,” Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said late Thursday.

Meanwhile, Bentley, has been promoting his proposed lottery with the argument that Alabamians have a moral obligation to support a lottery that will in turn help fund Medicaid in Alabama, saving children’s lives.

Bentley’s proposed amendment would amend the constitution to allow a state lottery:

• Proceeds would first fund lottery operations;

• Other proceeds would go to the state’s General Fund.

• A seven-member Lottery Commission would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

• The Lottery Commission would have the authority to enter reciprocal agreements.

The amendment would have to be approved by statewide vote. If the proposal gets legislative approval by Aug. 24, the measure could appear on the November General Election ballot.

At least two other lottery proposals are expected to be introduced.

Jones said Bentley’s bill as previously released needs some changes.

“There is some terminology in it that changes existing law,” he said. “I don’t think that was by design, it’s just one of those things we’ll have to fix.”

Jones said he’s also concerned that the lottery would only be a short-term fix for the General Fund budget, which needs $70 million more in fiscal year 2017 for Medicaid.

“This is not a fix to the problem,” he said. “It’s just a large bandaid.”

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, said earlier this week that the lottery issue is not as simple as “Do you approve a lottery? Yes or No?”

One issue to address, he said, would be other gaming facilities in the state, such as the four dog tracks across the state.

“You will see those dog tracks, and their senators and representatives coalesce as a force to be recognized,” Holley said. “Their primary interest will be in and around those dog tracks.”

Holley said previous attempts at a lottery were voted down, he believes, because it was not clear where the money would go. The same thing could happen again, he said.

If the legislature approved a bill by Aug. 24, Alabamians could vote on the proposed constitutional amendment in November. However, it is not known how long it would be before the lottery generated revenue for the state, even if voters approve it.

Jones said he believes that’s why the BP settlement also will be in the governor’s call.

The rationale: Unlike a new lottery system, the state’s $1 billion BP spill settlement offers immediate cash.

Alabama will have its first $50 million from its $1 billion BP oil spill settlement available this year.

The funds could be applied toward the next fiscal year’s budget that begins Oct. 1, 2017.

The legislature failed to agree on the use of the settlement money in the regular session. Legislators from coastal Alabama want all or most of the proceeds to be spent there, rather than in statewide programs.