Alabama legislators revive lottery talk

Republican State Senator Jim McClendon has written a lottery proposal calling for a simple yes or no vote to be placed on the 2016 electoral ballot.

The proposal, however, will not ear mark what the lottery funds would be spent on.

It would merely determine whether voters would be comfortable with the legislature establishing some sort of lottery.

Democrat Craig Ford, who has introduced failing lottery legislation for years, has spoken out against this tactic.

Ford has argued that legislatures should make it clear what potential funds would go toward, rather than giving the legislature a blank check.

Ford has also pointed out the irony of Republicans in essence, saying that voters can trust the state government to use the funds wisely; this was one of their attacks against previous lottery proposals.

Ford has thus pledged to file a counter bill specifying that lottery funds go toward state scholarships.

Due to the dismal number of Democrats in both of Alabama’s state houses, if push comes to shove, Ford’s bill is unlikely to win out.

An education lottery similar to the one in Georgia has been a white whale for Alabama Democrats since the late 1990s.

As the state’s revenues have repeatedly come up short compared to the state’s expenditures, a number of Republicans have begun to soften their stance on the issue.

As recently as last year, Del Marsh, the Republican President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, opened the door to considering the expansion of Indian casinos and dog tracks. However, such talk seems to have halted. Don Siegelman, the last Democrat to occupy the governor’s mansion, successfully pushed for an education lottery to be placed on the ballot in 1999.

Despite the lottery proposal being a key issue of his election, when put before the voters, the measure failed by over 100,000 votes.

The measure came up short for various reasons. The concept of legalizing gambling offended some religious voters.

Others felt that if the lottery came up short on funds, the state would be forced to pay the difference. Some speculated that political allies of the governor would profit from administering the lottery.

Since the proposal’s failure, virtually every prominent Democrat in the state has sought to try again. Given the pathetic shape of the state’s Democratic Party, one could even argue that the lottery is their last remaining issue that resonates with voters who are not already committed Democrats.

This debate, like previous ones, may also end up being much ado about nothing, given that Republicans have not yet united around McClendon’s proposal.

Before the proposal even came forward, State Senator Shay Shelnutt had already announced his intentions to put an early end to any lottery or gambling talk in the coming session.

State Representative Rich Wingo has also signaled that he will oppose any gambling legislation on religious grounds. Meanwhile, power players like Gov. Robert Bentley, Senator Marsh and Representative Hubbard, have yet to take any stance on the proposal.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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