The governor who threw away his political career by “scratching an itch” now wants to fix the state budget one scratch-off card at a time. I guess there’s some symmetry there.
Gov. Robert Bentley says he’s going to call a special legislative session this month in hopes of getting the boys and girls of Goat Hill to approve a statewide lottery referendum for this November’s ballots. He says he’s doing so because the Legislature has refused his tax increase plans and the state’s flat broke.
A lottery, Bentley says, will generate more than $225 million a year. That won’t exactly fill state coffers. In fact, it won’t even be a third of the $700 million legislators voted to siphon out of the General Fund starting in October to pour into the gaping jaws of the Medicaid monster. Still, it would be some positive financial influx.
Of course many cynics see the Luv Guv’s lottery push as little more than an effort on his part to get the focus off his affair with former adviser Rebekah Mason and the criminal investigations swirling around Montgomery. And I have little doubt that’s true.
Bentley’s boat is dead in the water with the motor sitting on the bottom of the ocean. He’s a truly pathetic character in state politics at this point and the only people paying attention to him all have badges. Managing to get a lottery referendum passed might at least give him the appearance of movement or some sort of legacy that doesn’t involve breast jokes.
But let’s not throw the creepy old governor out with the bathwater here. Even if the lottery plan came into Bentley’s sweaty mind as he was sitting alone in his pitch-black bedroom trying to decide whether people would like him more if he grew a really big mustache, that doesn’t make it a bad idea.
Few things in this state are more obvious than the fact there’s never going to be the political will to shift the revenue stream to one based more on property tax than sales taxes. It’s almost as obvious that raising taxes is as popular as scurvy, so a lottery is one of the few revenue-generation ideas left.
Of course the second a lottery is mentioned the moralists start quoting scripture about the evils of gambling and others talk about how the poor are disproportionately taken advantage of by gambling. Those same people seem to have little issue with the state being in the booze business, and fail to recognize that high sales taxes absolutely affect the poor more than the wealthy.
I don’t know if there’s anything anyone can say to alleviate the fears that buying a $1 lottery ticket is like buying a bus ticket to hell or somehow worse than poor people spending their money on fast food and cigarettes, but looking at it from a less emotional standpoint I can’t see a reason Alabama shouldn’t have a lottery.
First, we’re literally surrounded by gambling. Every state bordering Alabama has a lottery or casino gambling. WE actually have casino and dog track gambling.
This state has let millions of Alabama dollars flow into our sister states while we’ve held the moral high ground. Meanwhile those other states have added billions to their annual budgets over the years. Sometimes being morally superior means dressing in rags.
Really the debate at this point is one of which is a bigger sin — allowing people to freely choose to spend their money buying scratch-off tickets, or underfunding services for the sick, children, the elderly and the mentally ill? Yes, the lottery is not a cure-all, but no one seems to have the cojones to do what’s necessary otherwise.
Personally I’d love to see a big, fat casino right in downtown Mobile, but Bentley’s proposal is for a lottery only, so we’ll have to live with that.
At this point we know few details, so I can only assume if the lottery does pass we’ll get hooked in with Powerball, Mega Millions and the other nationwide and regional lotteries that produce tickets worth hundreds of millions. Maybe Bentley could buy some of those and hit it big on the state’s behalf in order to fill the rest of the funding gap. Just a thought.
But even if we don’t get Powerball, I have to guess we’d develop our own interesting Alabama-themed scratch-off tickets that could be sold at every convenience store in the state.
I’ll go ahead and throw a few ideas out there for some really fun scratch-offs that honor the man who’s going to make it all happen. A Luv Guv-themed card or two is a must.
The obvious one would be a $5 scratch-off called “The Governor’s Wallet.” It would feature a caricature of Bentley (who is kind of a caricature of a governor) surrounded by wallets. Scratch them off to see a monetary amount underneath. If a helicopter is revealed that’s a free ride in an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chopper!
I’d also suggest Bentley-related cards that feature melons or Wanda’s desk, but that might be a bit too racy. Someone needs to get to work on it.
It’s been 17 years since the last time a lottery was proposed and the governor who did so ended up in jail. Déjà vu? Perhaps, but this time let’s hope the lottery passes first.
There’s really no great logical reason for not at least putting the referendum on the ballot this fall. It’s time for Alabama to stop sending our hard-earned or welfare-given lottery dollars to other states. Either kind can do more good here than in Florida, Georgia or Tennessee.
And while the Legislature is in a referendumy kind of mood, why not slap something on there about removing Bentley from office. Tie the two together and there’s almost no doubt we’d soon be scratching away.