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Ivey wants ‘facts’ on gambling; some lawmakers ready to move forward with lottery

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey has told lawmakers she wants the “facts” on financial impact of a lottery and expanded gambling in Alabama and is putting together a working group to get them. She won’t take any action on the matter until then, she said.

But that information is months away and a key lawmaker said Wednesday he’s moving forward with a proposal for a statewide lottery.

Ivey’s working group will also analyze a possible compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

“I’ll give them to the year’s end, but if they get through sooner, that’ll be fine too,” Ivey said in an interview Wednesday.  “But I want them to be thorough and get the facts. That’s all I want is the facts, not recommendations. We just want the facts about how much money the state can expect to gain if we do a lottery or if we do expanded gaming or a compact and what the heck does a compact look like?”

Ivey said she’s vetting individuals for her working group and they’ll be announced soon.

“Anytime I ask people how much money a lottery would bring in, they say, ‘Well, I think about…’ and they give you a number,” Ivey said.  “… We have to have the facts for the people to make a decision.”

There’s already one lottery bill in the State House. It would split revenues between the state’s pre-kindergarten program and higher education scholarships. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, it doesn’t need Ivey’s signature before it goes to voters.

“I’ve going to give it a couple of weeks before I introduce it, but I’m going to introduce it,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said Wednesday. “Personally, I don’t see where there’s any reason to put the lottery in the study. There’s 45 other states that have studied it and they’re all operating a lottery and none of them have gone out of business.”

He said the State House budget office did a deep dive into possible revenue for a lottery and came up with a “conservative” $167 million a year.

Clouse did say Ivey’s working group may provide political cover for lawmakers who don’t want a lottery, giving them a reason to vote “no” again this year.

Sen. Tom Butler, R-Huntsville, voted against a lottery proposal in 2019.

“Not this session, that’s the way I would read that,” Butler said Wednesday about Ivey’s working group announcement.  “… there won’t be a vote on a lottery this session, that’s my opinion.”

Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, said discussion about what’s next are ongoing.

“I think we need to, personally, move forward with (getting a lottery bill to Alabama voters), but I don’t know that that will be the case,” South said.

Sen. Tim Melson said a lottery debate should wait, for now.

$1 billion bond would mean at least $200K per school system

Another major announcement in Ivey’s State of the State address this week was a $1 billion bond for capital improvements at K-12 schools, community colleges and four-year universities.

The last major bond issue for school construction was in 2007.

“The governor believes it is time to make a significant investment,” state Finance Director Kelly Butler said Wednesday.

Repayment on the $1 billion loan would be about $80 million a year for 20 years, Kelly Butler said.

The proposal will go through the Legislature. A copy of the proposal wasn’t available Wednesday.

The money would be divided 73% for K-12, 27% for higher education.

Every K-12 system would get a minimum of $200,000, Kelly Butler said. Additional money would be distributed based on a formula that includes student enrollment and local revenue.

Sen. Tim Melson, the Senate Education Policy chairman, said he is for the bond, as long as the money goes to systems that need it.

“Not making the rich richer,” Melson, R-Florence, said.

The money has to be spent on building improvements, including construction, safety improvements or broadband infrastructure.

Four-year universities have tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needs and are supportive of a bond that would help address those projects. On Wednesday, Alabama Commission on Higher Education officials hadn’t seen Ivey’s exact proposal.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, remembers the 2007 $1 billion bond for school construction and the benefits it provided schools.

“The timing is good for us to proceed with this and make a tremendous impact on education across the state,” Orr said.

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