Gov. Robert Bentley has called a special session to consider a proposal for a lottery to fund state services.
Bentley announced the plan this morning in a video posted on his website.
BREAKING:We need your help solving our funding crisis.I’m giving you the opportunity to vote on a Statewide Lottery. https://t.co/BLzE3bOXLP
— Gov. Robert Bentley (@GovernorBentley) July 27, 2016
Bentley said the state can’t afford to pay for basic services and has borrowed money and used one-time money for decades to fill the gaps.
The governor said a lottery would raise about $225 million a year, and he proposes applying the revenue to services for children, the mentally ill, law enforcement and “those in the most need.”
“The time has come for us to find a permanent solution,” Bentley said.
“This solution will provide funding that we can count on for year after year without ever having to raise your taxes or put one more band-aid on our state’s money problems.”
Bentley did not give a date for the session. Press Secretary Yasamie August said it would be announced later this week.
Some state lawmakers have said the best time to call a special session on a lottery would be in August.
“I think there’s a strong chance that we can get a piece of lottery legislation out of the Legislature, if the special takes place in August,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Tuesday.
For a lottery proposal to be on the ballot in the general election Nov. 8, the Legislature would have to approve it by Aug. 24.
In his video, Bentley asks legislators to give voters a chance to decide on a lottery.
“Let’s hear from the people of this great state on whether the time has come to approve a statewide lottery to help fund essential state services for our children, our elderly, those with mental illness and those who are in most need, as well as the men and women in law enforcement,” the governor said.
Bentley said his plan would be allow only a lottery and no other forms of gambling.
He is proposing a statewide lottery commission to oversee the lottery.
It’s been 17 years since Alabama voters rejected Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery proposal. Siegelman’s lottery would have funded college scholarships, technology for schools and pre-kindergarten.
Bentley and the Legislature have grappled with funding services throughout his time in office.
The most pressing issue, for now, is the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the largest consumer of dollars from the state General Fund and a program that serves about one million Alabamians.
Earlier this year, lawmakers overrode Bentley’s veto and approved a budget that appropriated $700 million from the General Fund for Medicaid for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Bentley said Medicaid needs $785 million to maintain services and to sustain a plan to changed Medicaid to a managed care program run through regional care organizations, or RCOs.
That plan has been in the works for more than three years, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved a waiver that could provide up to $748 million over five years to make the transition.
Bentley mentions the Medicaid reforms in his video.
“We’re reforming Medicaid from top to bottom, shifting the responsibility to manage the program from government workers to private sector stakeholders,” the governor said. “This will slow the growth in Medicaid spending and save the taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, leader of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, has proposed lottery bills for years but does not think Bentley’s plan will work.
“A lottery will do nothing for this year’s Medicaid shortfall, and at best will be nothing more than a band aid for the General Fund that will leave us right back where we are now in just a few years,” Ford said in a statement.
“The lottery is a one-shot deal, and a lottery for the General Fund will become, as it has in other states, a victim to legislative shell games; it will become nothing more than a slush fund for legislators.”
Ford’s lottery proposal would fund scholarships for two years for all students admitted to public universities or two-year colleges.
Acting House Speaker Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, said the governor has not provided the details needed to make the special session successful.
“The governor has not outlined his plan to legislators in any detail, nor, to my knowledge, has he even set a concrete start date for the special session, so it is difficult to comment with so little information at hand,” Gaston said in a statement. “I hope that the governor reaches out to lawmakers over the next several weeks in order to seek their input on any lottery proposal that comes forward and to do the prep work that is necessary for any special session to be successful.”