The day has finally come! It has been more than 17 years since Alabamians rejected Don Siegleman’s lottery proposal, and it seems that we may have the chance to right the wrong from 1998. There is just one problem, and his name is Robert Bentley. How in the world could I say this? He just announced a special session to get a lottery on the ballot in November, didn’t he? Well my friend, yes he did, but let me tell you why Robert Bentley’s lottery is the wrong lottery for Alabama.
Alabamians have been screaming for a lottery for some time now, but it seems our illustrious governor missed the most crucial part of all of that screaming, and that part is education. The proposal Governor Bentley has proposed completely disregards education funding and instead wishes to funnel money into the General Budget, primarily to fund Medicaid’s shortfall. Well, what’s wrong with that? It is no secret Medicaid’s underfunding has greatly hurt rural hospitals and doctors across the state. The problem is that a lottery to cover Medicaid is nothing more than a temporary band-aid on a major problem here in Alabama that will be ripped off in 5 years only to show the same gaping wound in Alabama’s healthcare.
A lottery cannot fix our Medicaid problem long-term, nor can it honestly fix the problem short-term. As Representative Craig Ford (Gasdsen-D) said earlier today in his statement, “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.” (Also read his statement, it is far more phenomenal than this op-ed.)
The problem is that year after year, it is atypical for lottery revenue to grow, however, healthcare costs will continue to increase. Governor Bentley knows this, but he sees it as the next governor’s problem and is not interested in the long-term betterment of Alabamians’ standard of living. Governor Bentley knows there is only one way to sustain Medicaid and health services to his constituents, and that is to expand Medicaid and to accept the $3 billion that comes with expansion (Money that we desperately need and have rejected for far too long.)
There is only one appropriate place for lottery revenue in our state, and that is in our education system. Alabamians need a scholarship program that resembles the HOPE Scholarship in Georgia, which pays full tuition and fees at Georgia public universities for students maintaining a B average. Not only would this greatly increase the rate of high school graduates attending and ultimately graduating college, but it would have the potential to lift an entire generation of Alabamians out of back-breaking student debt and open countless opportunities for economic growth in our state.
Do you want to see technology and startups explode in our state? How about better teachers, more successful businessmen, and more competent legislators in Montgomery? Do you want to see industries flock to our state due to the quality and quantity of college graduates we produce? Then remember, we cannot allow Governor Bentley to write himself a blank check with a General Fund lottery, but instead, we must demand a lottery system that funds and explodes our public universities.
Learn more about how lotteries work in other states, the strengths and weaknesses, and how some states have poorly-written bills that allow the governor to raid the education lottery to build budget holes.