Bentley: Lottery best option for revenue

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, July 28, 2016

By Kim Chandler | The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley once said state lotteries were as outdated as leisure suits, but in throwing his support to a state lottery this week he said it was the only revenue option left in the closet.

The governor, in an opinion piece submitted Wednesday to news outlets, said lawmakers have rejected the idea of tax increases while the state faces a continued revenue crisis. The governor did not name the state’s Medicaid program in the piece, but said the state’s revenue troubles could force cuts “gut-wrenching” decisions to cut programs for children, the disabled and the elderly.

Email newsletter signup

“I will not, as your Governor and as a physician, watch as our most helpless and vulnerable people go without a doctor’s care. I can’t bear to think of the half-million children who, through no fault of their own, are born into poverty and have no way to get basic medical treatment they need to grow healthy and strong,” Bentley wrote.

The governor said, “At bare minimum, we must care for our truly vulnerable.”

Bentley in the opinion piece expanded on his Wednesday announcement calling a special session for lawmakers to consider the idea of a state lottery. He acknowledged how he once likened state lotteries to leisure suits because he thought they were an outdated idea that was once the rage as state after state approved lotteries. Alabama lawmakers instead, he said, pieced together past budgets with borrowed money, slashed government services and debated tax increases, but the state still faces perpetual revenue troubles.

“Well, sometimes when the leisure suit is the only thing you’ve got left hanging in the closet, you have to suck in your gut, and squeeze into that thing, no matter how ill-fitting it may be,” Bentley wrote.

The governor has not announced specifics of his proposal, including such crucial details of how the money will be used. The governor is expected to announce the date of the special session later this week.

Alabama legislators last year largely rejected Bentley’s attempt to raise taxes. The Republican governor and Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature also have butted heads over the state’s Medicaid budget. Lawmakers this spring overrode a Bentley veto to enact a budget that provides $700 million for the state Medicaid program in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Bentley said $785 million is needed to maintain health care program for 1 million Alabamians, mostly children, the disabled and the elderly.

“No, a lottery may not be the perfect way to help children who are born into poverty pay for basic medical treatment. But at this hour, exhausting all options, it’s the best leisure suit we’ve got,” he wrote.

Alabama is one of six states — along with Mississippi, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery. Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman made a state lottery to fund education the centerpiece of his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, but voters rejected it in 1999 under heavy opposition from church groups. The renewal of the lottery idea brought mixed reaction from lawmakers.

“Democrats have spent two decades calling for a lottery, and I am grateful to see Gov. Bentley and some Republican Legislators taking up our cause,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, a longtime proponent of lottery legislation.