Lottery legislation must include specifics on spending proceeds

By Rodger M. Smitherman

Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman
Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman

Lawmakers head back to Montgomery in a few days to take up proposed laws that would give Alabama residents a chance to vote on a lottery – supported by the governor and some Republicans in the House and the Senate.

There’s no doubt we need more money to fund services for all of Alabama. And while this legislation, if approved by voters in November, would provide an estimated $220 million in the 2018 fiscal year, there is a huge problem with the proposal.

Voters and lawmakers are being asked to approve this legislation, but there is no enabling legislation included. In other words, it’s like giving a blank check to the Legislature, with no specific instructions on how that money should be spent.

There must be priorities for the money generated through the lottery and the return of video gaming. Those priorities must be based on a sincere commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all of our citizens.

We must commit to increasing Medicaid funding.  The budget passed by the Legislature in the most recent regular session only included $700 million for Medicaid, when the clear need for funding was $785 million. Cuts in payments to doctors and medical facilities have already been initiated, sending shockwaves through the state’s vital medical industry. It’s also putting children, poor people and persons with disabilities at risk, because they may be unable to access preventive and emergency care.

It’s not enough for us to say that Medicaid will get some of this money. We must specify the amount — $100 million.

Education must also be a priority for the funds generated through a lottery and video gaming. If we want to attract more industries with high paying jobs to Alabama, then Alabama must first invest more in its own future.

We must designate $60 million for the Education Trust Fund that can be used to fund efforts that make our K-12 system stronger. These funds would be used for additional teachers and aides, textbooks, computers, instructional materials, raises and transportation.

This month, teachers and students are heading back to school across Alabama. Many of them will be in overcrowded classrooms with 30 or more students– without a paraprofessional aide. Teachers in overcrowded classrooms face the difficult challenge of giving instruction without enough time to truly meet the individual learning needs of their students. The school children – those who represent our future – too often find themselves the victims of a state funding system that does not adequately fund their needs.

Post-secondary scholarships should also be a priority for spending proceeds from the lottery. We want to support Alabamians in higher education, because they will be our future workers and leaders. A solid and well-educated workforce will assist us in attracting businesses and industries that will grow our economy. We must designate $60 million from the lottery to fund these scholarships.

I favor a lottery to support education and provide more funds for Medicaid. I do not favor legislation that gives the Alabama Legislature a blank check to be filled in after voters bite the hook of supporting a lottery in Alabama.

Voters depend on lawmakers to make sound decisions in this state. We cannot wait to decide what to do with funds from a lottery, we must be upfront and tell the voters what will happen with this money — $100 million for Medicaid, $60 million for post-secondary scholarships, and $60 million for the Education Trust Fund.

Rodger M. Smitherman is an Alabama State Senator.