A couple buys a few lottery tickets hoping to hit the jackpot. On their way home, they discuss all the things they would do with their winnings. Of course, they’d quit their jobs the next day, pay off all their debt and put some aside for the kids’ college funds. The wife wants to redo the kitchen or maybe even get a new house. The husband has had his eye on a boat for years. Maybe they could finally buy that vacation home or go on the honeymoon they never got to take. They giggle at the thought of all the long-lost relatives who would suddenly show up with their hands out.
“God, we’d have to use the money to move to Mars to get away from cousin Johnny,” says the husband.
“Yeah, he’d probably try to put a hit out on us with our own money,” the wife jokes.
About the time they start planning their third vacation and discussing their mountain chalet, they hit the Florida-Alabama line. Later that night they will, of course, learn the honeymoon and house hunting will have to wait as they only got two numbers on one of their “quick picks.” But at least cousin Johnny won’t be visiting anytime soon.
“It was worth the five bucks to dream,” says the wife.
“We’ll get to Paris one day anyway, I promise,” says the husband.
As the rest of their dreams dissipate into the Alabama night sky, the money they spent on those tickets stays in Florida, helping to fund scholarships for kids in Tampa and Tallahassee instead of Tuscaloosa and Talladega.
In 2016, the Florida lottery sold $6.2 billion in tickets, providing a $1.8 billion contribution to education for the 2016-17 school year. According to flalottery.com, the lottery has contributed more than a $1 billion to education each year for the past 15 years and more than $32 billion since its inception. More than 775,000 students have attended college on a Bright Futures scholarship.
On Monday, Democratic candidate for governor and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox unveiled his plan for a state lottery, estimating it would generate $300 million for education in Alabama. He says his plan has four “cornerstones” — college scholarships, workforce development opportunities, statewide pre-K and supplementing underperforming schools.
His Democratic challenger, former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, has offered a similar plan that would also fund pre-K and other child care programs, career tech and would bridge the funding gaps with federal Pell grants.
Obviously, this is not a new idea. Alabama is one of the only states without a lottery. Former Gov. Don Siegelman was elected in 1998, promising a statewide referendum on it. He delivered on the referendum but it was defeated in 1999, and Siegelman went on to have troubles of his own after that, to say the least.
But that was almost 20 years ago. The state is a lot different now and the possibility of a lottery doesn’t even seem to make Republican lawmakers’ faces screw up as much as it once did.
But, of course, the lottery is not without its opponents — mainly those whose biggest fear is it will take money out of their own pockets — but there are others who make moral arguments (although many of those moral arguers are funded by the aforementioned money people — ahhh, America!).
Anyway, one of the common moral criticisms is it preys upon poor people, who buy more lottery tickets than folks who are better off, which, of course, makes sense. These critics say kids who are better off are often receiving the scholarships or other spoils the lottery provides on the backs of the lower class, which may not be benefiting from it as much.
Then there is the sin argument, but it’s really hard to listen to that one considering our state seemingly has no problem being in the booze business.
Even states with lotteries that have poured billions into education have folks complaining about the way the funds are distributed.
“It still makes my blood boil a little bit when I see the lottery tout how many billions of dollars they’ve raised for education,” said Mark Pudlow, longtime spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union, said on tcpalm.com last March.
“Right away, the lawmakers just used that money, essentially put it into the regular pot, and education funding did not go up,” Pudlow said. “Over the years, education funding has gone down so that we’re now once again one of the bottom states when it comes to spending for public education.”
In fact, the misuse of education funds is a common gripe in many of the states with a lottery.
I absolutely think these are all valid criticisms. Well, except the sin one. I have never believed lawmakers should be in the business of legislating morality. Sinners gonna sin.
But, sure, lotteries do prey upon poor people. But so do high sales and low property tax rates, which we lead the nation in. Do you think that’s going to change any time soon? Hell to the no. There is a better chance of Nick Saban leaving Alabama to pursue a theater career as the next lead in “Hamilton.”
So why do you think we should prey upon the poor even more, you cold-hearted columnist? Well, at least with the lottery, some of the funds may actually benefit the poor, like the programs for pre-K and career tech.
Well, don’t you think our state will misuse the funds like other lottery states have?
Oh my god, yes, yes, yes! I know they will. They will find loopholes to use it for Medicaid and prisons and shoring up the general fund and for Chip and Joanna Gaines to perform a “fixer upper” on the gubernatorial beach mansion. It will be wildly misused, for sure! It won’t be illegal though; they will make sure to leave themselves enough legal wiggle room to stay out of jail … probably.
You say, “Well, maybe this lottery is not a very good idea then, Ashley. Some of the Republican candidates say we don’t need it, we can just manage the money we have now better.”
To that I say, “Bahahahahahahahaha. Puh-leez. Are we talking about the same people who used once-in-a-lifetime oil spill money to close a Medicaid funding gap because they had no other options? Um, OK.”
We all know “better management” is not going to happen. It’s just not.
And a lottery is not going to solve all of our problems, either. But at least it will give us a new pot of money, which again will no doubt be misused, but maybe, just maybe, some of it will be left over after all of the lawmaker malfeasance to do a little good. At this point, I’ll gladly take the crumbs.
Think about it: If Walt Maddox’s projections are accurate and $300 million is generated, even if they misuse two thirds of it and only $100 million went into an education fund, that’s $100 million more going to it than there is now. It is sort of the equivalent of only receiving a payout for getting three lottery numbers correct instead of all six. Sure, I’d rather see the whole jackpot go into education, but at this point, I’ll take whatever we can get.