By State Rep. Craig Ford
Alabama can no longer say, “Thank God for Mississippi.”
The Mississippi State Legislature recently passed a state lottery, and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has said he will sign it into law. This means that Alabama will now be one of only six states in the entire country – and the only state in the south – that does not have a state lottery.
Year after year, and in survey after survey, the lottery continues to poll extremely well among voters of every background. The lottery isn’t even a partisan issue – whether Democrat or Republican, or liberal or conservative, support for the lottery continues to top 70 percent among all voters.
It just doesn’t make any sense why the Alabama Legislature cannot get a lottery proposal in front of the people for an up or down vote.
We did come close to pa-ssing a lottery in 2016. The State Senate passed a lottery that year, and then the State House of Representatives passed an amended version on its second vote (I personally spoke with three state representatives who switched their vote from a “no” to a “yes”). But because the House had amended the lottery bill, it had to go back to the State Senate, and that is where it died.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s critical that the lottery be done properly. Too many pork spending projects and language dealing with other types of gaming are what killed the last lottery proposal.
But we could have fixed any problems with the lottery proposal if we had let it continue to go through the legislative process. And the fact that the lottery died in the State Senate is one of the main reasons I chose to run for State Senate this year instead of running for re-election to the State House of Representatives.
It has never been more important than it is now for us to pass a state lottery. There are so many needs in our state, from roads and bridges to education and protecting rural hospitals, where a state lottery could generate some desperately needed revenue.
We very nearly lost our hospital in Cherokee County earlier this year due to a lack of funds and cuts in Medicaid reimbursements. Throughout our district, we have significant road and bridge projects, such as I-759, U.S. Hwy. 411, the Southside Bridge and Ala. Hwy. 77 in Attalla, that need to be completed and would benefit from lottery revenue going into the highway fund.
And, of course, a lottery could open the door for many kids to get a college education. Not every kid wants to go to college or needs to go to college, but no kid should ever be denied his or her chance to earn a college degree just because he or she can’t afford college. A lottery could make all the difference for some kids who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to pursue their degree.
The most recent estimates say that a lottery could generate over $300 million dollars a year in new revenue for the state, and I guarantee you that most Alabamians would much rather see a lottery than a tax increase to generate that kind of money.
We could pave a lot of roads and send a lot of kids to college for $300 million dollars. And we could protect millions of rural Alabamians who are at risk of losing access to healthcare if their local hospitals shut down.
I understand the concern some people have that a lottery is a “regressive tax” or that it could exacerbate a gambling problem for some people. But people with gambling problems are going to gamble regardless of whether the state has a lottery. And if a lottery is a tax, then it is a voluntary tax that you choose to pay, as opposed to every other type of tax that is forced on you whether you like it or not.
Mississippi passing a state lottery should send a strong message to Alabama’s leaders and political candidates. If they can get it done in Mississippi then there’s no reason we can’t get it done here in Alabama. It’s time for a lottery. It’s time to let the people vote!
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He currently is running for the State Senate in District 10 as an Independent.