Could a lottery referendum be in Alabama’s future?

Published 3:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gov. Robert Bentley certainly hopes so. The governor announced plans on Wednesday to call a special session of the Legislature in attempts to get the referendum placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Whether that will happen or not is anybody’s guess. The Legislature and the governor are at odds, with threats of impeachment proceedings lingering after news of his scandalous relationship with a campaign aid and advisor broke earlier this year. Since then, Bentley has refused to turn over ……

Bentley had indicated he would call a special session to address Medicaid funding issues, so the lottery focus announced on Wednesday may have caught some voters off-guard.

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Now, the lottery rears its head again. And Alabama likely remains as divided as it once was.

In 1999, the issue actually went before Alabama voters. With a record 1.2 million votes cast, 54 percent of the voters rejected the referendum. At the time, then Gov. Don Siegelman pledged that the estimated $150 million in lottery revenues would go only toward college tuition, voluntary pre-K and school computers.

Now, Bentley estimates a lottery could generate $225 million for the state. He has said the revenues would be used for the state’s General Fund, helping provide much-needed money for state services that benefit children and the mentally ill, as well as “those most in need.” Lottery revenues would not be used for education.

We think the lottery issue should be on the ballot. For nearly 20 years, the pros and cons of a statewide lottery have been argued around coffee clubs and in the statehouse. Our state is no doubt deeply divided on this issue, but it lingers still. Put the lottery to a vote of the public and let the citizens speak.

That is, after all, the point of our democracy.