Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who said a year ago that lotteries were as old-fashioned as leisure suits, now says they are the best remaining option to boost funding for important state programs, especially Medicaid.
State lawmakers return to Montgomery on Monday for a special session to consider the governor's proposal for a lottery to raise money for the state budget.
Previously, Bentley has said he did not oppose a lottery proposal going on the ballot for voters, but was not a proponent of a lottery as a way to fund government.
Bentley has turned to the lottery after lawmakers rejected most of his other proposals for addressing the perpetual problem with state funding.
Bentley proposed tax increases in 2015, but most died. Earlier this year, he proposed a plan to move money from the education budget, but lawmakers did not go along.
Medicaid, which serves about one million Alabamians, is the agency with the most urgent need, officials say. A plan to revamp Medicaid into a managed care system with regional organizations has been in the works for more than three years but is on hold because of a funding shortfall.
In April, the Legislature overrode Bentley's veto and passed a budget that appropriated $700 million from the General Fund to Medicaid for the budget year that starts Oct. 1. The agency says it needs $785 million to maintain services at the current level. It has already announced cuts in payments to doctors because of the shortfall.
If the Legislature approves a lottery proposal by Aug. 24, it would go on the ballot for voters in the Nov. 8 general election.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, will sponsor Bentley's proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate.
It calls for the establishment of a state lottery to be run by a seven-member commission, with members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The amendment would also allow the state to enter agreements with multi-state lotteries, like Powerball.
Proceeds from the lottery would go to the state General Fund, which means legislators would determine how the money is used.
McClendon will sponsor a second bill for a constitutional amendment to allow a lottery and also allow gambling machines called electronic lottery terminals at the state's four greyhound tracks, in Greene, Jefferson, Macon and Mobile counties.
McClendon's second bill also differs from the governor's in that it would designate some of the lottery revenue for the Education Trust Fund.
And McClendon's second bill proposes an $85 million bond issue to cover the Medicaid shortfall, with lottery revenues paying off the bonds.
It takes 21 votes in the 35-member Senate and 63 votes in the 103-member House (there are two vacancies) to approve a constitutional amendment and forward it to voters.
Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said he does not think there will be enough agreement among competing factions to pass the legislation.
Waggoner said he expects senators who want to including gambling at the dog tracks will filibuster against a lottery-only bill, and senators opposed to expanded gambling at the tracks will filibuster if that's included.
"It's just a hodge-podge and I don't think they can get 21 votes," Waggoner said.
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, said he does not support the lottery-only plan. Ross said the question of whether to expand gambling has been a major topic in the state for years and should be addressed more comprehensively.
"If you're going to give the citizens of Alabama an opportunity to deal with it, you deal with it all at one time," Ross said.
Ross said a proposal allowing expanded gambling at the tracks could provide revenue to the state more quickly than a lottery, which would take some time to establish.
Democrats hold only eight seats in the Senate, but some of their votes might be needed to reach the 21-vote threshold.
Bentley will release the special session call on Monday. That's the resolution that specifies what topics he wants covered in the special session.
In addition to the lottery, Bentley has indicated he also wants legislators to consider a plan to designate the use of $850 million the state is scheduled to receive from BP over about the next 17 years.
The money is compensation for economic damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said he will introduce on Monday a plan for the BP money that passed the House during the regular session.
His plan calls for a bond issue of about $639 million and for designating the BP payments to pay off the bonds.
Clouse's bill would apply $448 million of the $639 million toward debt the state owes to the Alabama Trust Fund, a debt incurred because of the need to prop up the state budget over about the last seven years.
Clouse's bill calls for sending the remaining $191 million to Mobile and Baldwin counties, which caught the brunt of the oil spill disaster, for road projects.
Clouse said his plan would free up a total of $70 million in the state budgets for this year and next year for Medicaid.
Several competing plans on how to use the BP money were considered in the Legislature earlier this year, including Clouse's, but none got final approval.
Clouse said it's unclear how a lottery proposal will fare in the House.
Republicans hold 70 seats in the House. Clouse said Democrats' votes would be needed to get to the 63-vote threshold.
"A plain lottery, I think it would get a majority of Republican House members' votes," Clouse said. "But I don't think you can get a three-fifths. You'd have to have a significant amount of Democratic votes for it to get three-fifths."
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, has said he does not think most Democrats will support Bentley's lottery proposal.
Ford has sponsored lottery proposals for years, and said he will introduce a plan that would use lottery proceeds to fund scholarships for students admitted to public universities and community colleges.
The scholarships would be for the first two years of college.
The special session begins at 4 p.m. on Monday.
The House is expected to elect a new speaker to replace Mike Hubbard, who was removed from office when he was convicted of ethics charges in June.
The House Republican caucus voted last week to support Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, for speaker.
The House could officially elect McCutcheon on Monday.