In the wake of a $1.6 billion national Powerball jackpot, state lottery bills have already been filed in the Alabama Legislature.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-St. Clair Springs; Rep. Alan Harper, R-Northport; and House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden; all pre-filed legislation to create an Alabama state lottery. The bills by McClendon and Harper are identical and call for the creation of a state lottery if approved by a majority vote in a statewide referendum. Ford’s bill is more detailed and calls for a vote for a lottery, the establishment of a lottery trust fund and the creation of the Alabama Lottery Corporation to oversee the lottery. Ford’s bill would fund education for A/B honor roll students at two-year and four-year colleges.
The last serious lottery push in the state came in 1999, when former Gov. Don Siegelman had an education lottery voted on in a statewide referendum. The measure was defeated, but Ford said he thought it was time to bring the matter before the public again.
“I’ve been sponsoring this bill for the last six years,” Ford said. “It’s getting more attention this year than it ever has. The Republican super-majority passed $180 million in taxes last year. We’ve been funding Georgia’s lottery for years. It’s time to fund Alabama and keep our tax dollars in our state.”
Ford said financial projections indicated that between $300 and $350 million dollars were spent by Alabama residents in Georgia and Tennessee annually. He said that estimate didn’t include money that was spent out of state for other things.
“[Not having a lottery] is hurting Alabama’s small businesses,” Ford said. “That’s not counting the tax money we’re losing when people cross state lines to buy lottery tickets. They get something to eat and will gas up their cars.”
Ford said qualifying students would receive funding from the lottery on an annual basis.
“We’d put all the money in the pot and divide it up evenly,” Ford said. “One year, it may pay for 90 percent of a student’s education and the next year it may pay 85 percent. Georgia got into trouble with their HOPE scholarships because they guaranteed it.”
Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said he hadn’t read Ford’s bill, but said he was willing to keep an open mind.
“I’m not a lottery person,” Ledbetter said. “But, the thing is I’ll always let the people vote. I’ll vote to give the people an opportunity to accept it or reject it. I’m probably one of the few people that didn’t buy a ticket [in the $1.6 billion Powerball]. But, I think people want to vote on it. So, I’ll vote to let the people decide.”
Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, said he hadn’t read Ford’s bill yet, but he had some concerns about a lottery.
“I do have concerns,” Livingston said. “If we were to put up a lottery bill for the General Fund budget, I don’t think it would pass. But education, that’s a different story.”
Like Ledbetter, Livingston said he’d vote to let the people decide the matter in a statewide referendum.
In Part II, Section E of Ford’s bill is language that would allow the Alabama Lottery Corporation to join into agreements such as the Powerball.
“The Alabama Lottery Corporation may enter into 13 reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions for the 14 operation and promotion of games that are permitted to be 15 operated, utilized, or conducted by the Alabama Lottery.”
Ford’s bill can be found on the Alabama Legislative Database Online at http://goo.gl/Lir1uj.
This year’s session starts Feb. 2.