Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Is it time for a lottery?

  As anticipated, a special legislative session of the Alabama Legislature has been called by Gov. Robert Bentley. The session is set to begin this Monday, August 15.

  Dr. Bentley has bemoaned the fact that the legislature refused to grant Medicaid the $85 million they said they needed in the budget fiscal year, which begins October 1.

  In the governor’s call, he is requesting that the super majority Republican legislature reconsider their refusal to keep feeding Medicaid, which is a money eating monster. It grows exponentially every year and is eating the state out of house and home. However, the federal government matches our state dollars almost 3-to-1.  Therefore, an $85 million cut in state funding results in almost $240 million less to Alabama Medicaid recipients. Fifty percent of the babies born in the state and 66 percent of the nursing home residents in our state are on Medicaid.

  Even with the dire threats of cuts to physicians, hospitals, and pharmacies, as well as possible deaths due to the loss of some dialysis care, these guys really do not want to raise new revenue. They are real Republicans. They believe that the least government is the best government. If truth were known they would probably do away with Medicaid, as well as state government altogether.

  The governor is proposing a state lottery to bolster Medicaid and the General Fund. The legislature cannot institute a state lottery by themselves. All they do is vote to allow Alabama citizens to vote on a lottery. The vote would be at the same time you vote for president this November 8. That is the most prudent date for the referendum. A special election would cost Alabamians $4 million. However, they cannot dilly dally around. They have to get it on the ballot by August 24.

  A lottery would bring in about $240 million. That is not a lot of money when you consider how much revenue is budgeted by the state each year, but it is not so much about the amount of money it brings in. It is the fairness factor to our state that is the issue.

  It is hard to understand how a legislator would refuse to allow their constituents the right to vote on this issue. If they have been listening to their folks at home at all, they have heard a hue and cry from their people that they would like the opportunity to vote on a lottery.

  Recent polls reveal that over 75 percent of all Alabamians would vote for a lottery if their legislators would allow them to vote on it. And this includes Republicans, who would vote for it simply because they want their money to stay at home. We are one of six states in America who derive no revenue from this source. All of our surrounding states have a lottery, except Mississippi which has full fledged casino gambling from which they derive a good bit of their state revenue.

  Alabamians buy lottery tickets. They just have to drive to our neighboring states to get them. The most tickets sold in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are bought on their borders by Alabamians.

  If I were a Republican legislator running for reelection in 2018, I would hate to have to defend a record of casting my first vote of the quadrennium for Mike Hubbard for Speaker and then voting to refuse you the right to vote to keep your money home rather than sending it to our surrounding sister states.

  Speaking of electing a Speaker, the first order of business in the House of Representatives on Monday will be the election of a new Speaker to replace Mike Hubbard. Under the super Republican majority rules, the House GOP members must vote for the candidate selected in a caucus meeting. They held that meeting last week and selected Rep. Mac McCutcheon, a Republican from Monrovia near Huntsville, to be their choice for Speaker.

  McCutcheon has been in the House for 10 years and defeated five other candidates within the caucus. The 70 Republican members will vote unanimously, lockstep for McCutcheon, the former Chairman of the Rules Committee. They will essentially lock the 33 Democrats out of the election of the Speaker process.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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