Bentley calls for special session

Published 3:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday announced his intention to call a special session to address the state’s funding crisis via a statewide lottery.

If the Legislature agrees to Bentley’s suggestion, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot for Alabama citizens to vote on. The immediate issue is finding $85 million that is needed to fully fund Medicaid.

“The time has come for us to find a permanent solution,” Bentley said in an official video release. “This solution will provide funding that we can count on year after year, without ever having to raise your taxes or put one more Band-Aid on our state’s money problems.”

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State Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, said the feasibility of getting the constitutional amendment approved to go on the ballot by the Aug. 24 deadline would depend on the will of the majority in the Legislature.

“If most of the Legislature wants to get it on the ballot, it can be done pretty expeditiously,” Boothe said. “If not, it can be slowed down to where it can’t be solved in time to get on the ballot. I think the issue’s going to be dealt with and we’ll settle it one way or another in this special session.”

The problem isn’t that the Legislature doesn’t want to address the problem, Boothe said; it’s a matter of finding the money to fill the gap.

“Medicaid is growing by leaps and bounds,” Boothe said. “The difficult part is finding the money to keep up with it. Unlike the federal government, we don’t have the liberty to print money. In order to get more funding, we either have to cut programs or raise taxes. If we take the money from a lottery and put it in the general fund, it would certainly be the easiest way to go, in my opinion.”

House Minority Leader Craig Ford released a statement on Facebook Tuesday stating that allowing a vote on the lottery is sensible, but that the funds should be earmarked for scholarships, not for the general fund.

“The debate these days isn’t so much over whether we should have a lottery, but how we should spend the revenue the lottery will create,” Ford said in the statement.

“Considering all the problems with Medicaid and the general fund budget, some legislators see the lottery as their ticket out of a no-win situation. But the fact is the lottery won’t save Medicaid or the general fund—and there are several reasons why it won’t.

“Let’s start with the timing. If we passed a lottery bill tomorrow and got it on the ballot in time for the November election (which is the soonest we could do it), it would still be a year before the lottery started bringing in new revenue. The new budgets go into effect on October 1st of this year—more than a month before the voters could even vote on the lottery! There’s simply no way the lottery can fix the current Medicaid shortfall.” Ford also detailed several reasons why the lottery could not fix the state’s general fund budget long term, and instead proposed legislation that would send the money from a lottery to scholarships that would cover the first two years of college for any student that was accepted into a public college or university.

Whether or not a lottery can fix the current shortfall in Medicaid, Bentley said he wants to give Alabama citizens the right to make the decision about the possible funding source.

“I have faith in the people of this state to make the right and the best choice,” Bentley said. “Let’s not stand in the way and deny your rights. Montgomery doesn’t have all the answers. Let’s hear from the people of this great state on whether the time has come to approve a statewide lottery to help fund essential state services for our children, our elderly, those with mental illness and those who are in most need.”

Bentley also said that he will propose a commission to oversee the lottery and that it would include no other forms of gambling. A lottery would provide $225 million a year, according to Bentley.