Lottery will not fund Medicaid

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2016

By Craig Ford
Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Over the last year or so, the lottery has been getting more and more attention and support from state legislators. The lottery is extremely popular, getting over 60 percent favorable support in all the public opinion polls that I’ve seen. The debate these days isn’t so much over whether we should have a lottery, but how we should spend the revenue the lottery will create.

There are three ways the lottery revenue can be spent: Spend all of it on education, spend all of it in the general fund or split it between the two budgets. Considering all the problems with Medicaid and the general fund budget, some legislators see the lottery as their ticket out of a no-win situation. But the fact is the lottery won’t save Medicaid or the general fund — and there are several reasons why it won’t.

Let’s start with the timing. If we passed a lottery bill tomorrow and got it on the ballot in time for the November election (which is the soonest we could do it), it would still be a year before the lottery started bringing in new revenue.

The new budgets go into effect on October 1 of this year — more than a month before the voters could even vote on the lottery!

There’s simply no way the lottery can fix the current Medicaid shortfall. But could the lottery prevent future budget crises and solve the long-term problems in Medicaid? Unfortunately, it still can’t. Lottery revenue in other states has been stagnant.

If the lottery brings in $300 million it’s first year, it will still be bringing in $300 million five years from now.

But the costs of Medicaid and other general fund programs will continue to increase as inflation and other factors drive up costs from year to year. Even if we put 100 percent of the lottery revenue into Medicaid, in just a few short years the costs of healthcare will have outgrown the lottery and we will be right back to where we are today.

In the end, the lottery is no more of a solution than borrowing money out of the state’s savings account was in 2012. All of these reasons are why the lottery is not a solution to Medicaid and the general fund, and why we must earmark the lottery revenue for a specific program.

That is why I have introduced legislation that would create a lottery specifically for scholarships. Under my bill, lottery revenue would pay for the first two years of college for anyone who gets accepted into a public college or university. I believe we should educate for a purpose, and that purpose is getting a job.

Whether we are helping someone get their bachelor’s degree in computer science or an associate’s degree in welding or machine tool technology, the lottery can help a lot of Alabamians achieve their dreams and find a good job that supports their families.

The lottery won’t save Medicaid. But it can create a better future for our state and millions of Alabamians for years to come.