The Alabama Senate, once again meeting in an expensive special session because the Republican supermajority in the state legislature is incapable of providing minimally adequate funding for even Alabama’s pitiful level of governmental services, on Friday passed Governor Robert Bentley’s terrible state lottery bill. The bill, which would put most of any lottery proceeds into the state’s general fund and thus be controlled by the corrupt politicians in the legislature, does not address the systemic problems of Alabama’s unfair tax system, and it puts control over hundreds of millions of dollars in the hands of a legislature that is constitutionally designed to be corruptly beholden to monied interests. It minimally benefits the education trust fund, and provides a small amount of earmarked money to Medicaid, but those are the only two good features about the proposed lottery.
We have written on numerous occasions about the need for systemic tax reform in our state, without which Alabama cannot hope to develop economically and provide tax fairness to its citizens. This lottery does not fix that. It merely provides more money, derived from a revenue source that is inherently regressive and will be mostly funded by the poor and working people of this state. If Alabama had a taxation system and a general fund budget that was fair and adequate, then a lottery would function as a boost to state government — and then, in columnist Joey Kennedy’s words, maybe Alabama could do things better like, for example, Florida.
But you can’t boost something that is inherently broken any more than installing a turbo-charger on a blown engine would make that broken-down junker in the front yard run faster. The car won’t run until the engine is rebuilt and putting an air-blower on top to boost performance won’t help.
Alabama’s “leaders” do not have sense enough to fix the engine first. Indeed, the very last thing the GOP supermajority in the state legislature wants to do is to fix Alabama’s antiquated, inadequate, and unfair tax system because the big business interests and landowners who don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes keep lining the legislators’ pockets. This is the same legislature who back in the spring’s general session thought it was perfectly acceptable to pass a general fund budget that so badly underfunded Medicaid that poor people will literally die from lack of access to basic health care services.
A lottery, of course, is in a real sense a tax that falls primarily on poor and working families. As I have written before, my principal objection to an Alabama lottery benefiting the general fund is not its regressive nature but rather because it gives the legislature an alternative to doing what’s right: fixing the damned tax system so that the wealthy pay their fair share and state services are adequately funded.
If the proposed lottery was designed to primarily benefit primary and secondary education, I would be all for it. This is the kind of lottery former Governor Don Siegelman tried to pass in 1999, and it was a great idea, because Alabama’s future could truly change if it properly educated its youth, and because putting the lottery proceeds in the education trust fund would largely keep it out of the control of the legislature. Governor Siegelman made the fatal error of putting that proposed lottery amendment on its own special election ballot rather than a general election ballot and the evangelicals were able to keep turnout low and kill it.
Only a small percentage of the lottery proceeds from the bill currently being debated in the house of representatives would go to education. The rest will be in the hands of our corrupt legislature. I’m guessing we’ll have more renovated beach houses and a lot less infrastructure improvement and healthcare access for the poor. Maybe Bentley and Riley and the rest of the gang will pour the money into even bigger and grander prisons than the ones Bentley proposed in the spring.
This lottery is a bad idea that will do nothing to help the current Medicaid budget shortfall, will minimally help our underfunded schools, and will provide a giant hog trough of cash for the pigs in Montgomery. This is, after all, the same legislature that loyally backed convicted felon Mike Hubbard until the day the jury rendered its verdict against him.
Do we trust these clowns to use lottery proceeds wisely?