BIRMINGHAM, AL — Governor Robert Bentley said money from a possible Alabama lottery would not fund education, but he's still optimistic voters will approve it.
The Governor provided some details about his plans for this month's special session at a visit to local media outlet WBRC. He's hoping legislators will green light a November ballot initiative, giving Alabama voters another chance to approve a statewide lottery. A similar measure was voted down in 1999. Bentley admitted he was among those who voted against the lottery proposed by then-Governor Don Siegelman.
"Times are different," said Bentley. "The lottery that we're going to propose is going to be a very clean, constitutional amendment that will have guidelines that the legislature will have to go by. We'll have an oversight commission that will make sure that everything is done correctly."
The governor said the projected $225 million from a lottery will not be earmarked and would go into the General Fund budget. The legislature would have the authority to put the money where it's needed.
"The greatest needs right now are Medicaid, but later on it may not be," said Bentley.
Alabama's Medicaid system faces an $85 million budget shortfall and some cuts to services went in to affect across the state today.
Governor Bentley made the decision in 2013 to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thus turning down millions of dollars in federal assistance. WBRC asked him if he still believed this was a wise decision.
"It was the right thing to do because we cannot even afford what we have right now," said Bentley. "That would not have changed our overall system and our overall system is a bare bones system."
The governor, however, did admit that some Alabamians would have benefited from the federal assistance.
"All that money would have gone for was the working poor," he said. "Now, would it help those and did we lose that battle in court? Yes, and down the road we may look at that, but now we can't look at that."
The governor's plan to deliver Medicaid included setting up regional care organizations across the state, however those cannot be fully implemented until the state's Medicaid budget is shored up. The governor negotiated $748 million to set up the regional care organizations. He said a possible lottery could be the source of revenue to avoid losses before the systems get off the ground.
If voters approve the lottery, money wouldn't start coming in until 2018. Governor Bentley said he's looking at other avenues to close the budget gap in 2017, including money from the BP settlement. In the meantime, he's hoping those who campaigned against the state lottery in 1999, including many church leaders, will have a change of heart.
"I have prayed about this, I have agonized over this myself," said Bentley.
"The Bible doesn't talk about lotteries, but it does talk about whether or not we take care of the poor. All I'm asking them is in their hearts, which is worse: someone going and using their own money that they earned and buying a lottery ticket or us not properly funding and taking care of children that are dying in the state? So, that's what they need to think of," he concluded.