Leader Blues

Friday, May 30, 2008

TOP STORY > >Many officials oppose lottery

Leader senior staff writer

In a press release noteworthy as much for who’s not endorsing his state lottery amendment to the constitution as who is, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter this week claimed widespread support among the state’s mayors and county judges.

Halter announced May 13 that HOPE for Arkansas had gathered the 77,468 signatures of registered voters required to qualify the amendment for the November general election ballot.

The amendment authorizes the Arkansas General Assembly to establish a lottery to fund college scholarships and grants for Arkansans attending certified two-year and four-year colleges and universities in the state.

Locally, only Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman are on the list endorsing the amendment, intended to raise money for college scholarships.

One county judge said he never agreed to be on the list of supporters.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim both declined a request for their endorsement, they said.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines said he’s undecided.

Also missing from a list that included less than a quarter of the county judges and mayors of 21 cities were Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays, who couldn’t be reached for comment before press time.

“I think if it helps educate our children…that’s what swayed me,” said McGee. “It’s getting harder and harder to send your children to school. I think it would be wonderful. These kids are going to need all the help they can get.”

Troutman’s support is a bit less enthusiastic. “I guess I endorse it. I’m going to vote for it, but I’m not going to get out and campaign for it.” He said this is probably the only lottery proposal he’d vote for. “It goes for education, why not try it?”

“I haven’t made up my mind,” said Villines. “I’ve always voted against previous lottery amendments, particularly those tied to casinos, which are bad for Arkansas. The (previous lottery attempts) all seem self-serving. This one doesn’t appear to be. It’s a straightforward benefit for those young people who want to go to college.”

Villines said he believed a lot of the endorsements came from areas bordering other states, where local governments not only lost potential lottery money to other states, but also tax money from residents buying gas and groceries just over the border where they could purchase lottery tickets.

For instance, Harrison Mayor Pat Moles said: “Cities and towns in north Arkansas lose money whenever residents cross the Missouri line to play the lottery. If you’re going to buy a lottery ticket, you should be able to buy it in Arkansas. We need to keep Arkansas money in Arkansas, supporting higher education in our state.”

Swaim said, “If there is going to be a lottery, spending all the money on college scholarships is not best way to spend it. A significant amount needs to go to kindergarten through 12th grades.”

“I would never bank kids’ education on lottery any more than I’d bank police and fire protection on a lottery,” said Williams. “I have a friend in (oft-cited) Georgia who says the program (there) is an absolute joke.”

“How many more kids are going to go to school and who’s going to give up a seat when they (get there)?” the Cabot mayor asked.

The scholarship lottery has the support of major labor organizations in Arkansas, according to Halter’s press release.

These include the state AFL-CIO and its member unions, representing more than 30,000 Arkansans; the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 2008, 5,300 members; the Teamsters, Local 878, 3,300 members; the Arkansas Regional Council of Carpenters, 1,500 members; and the Service Employees International Union, Local 100, 500 members.

Louisiana, Missouri, Okla-homa, Tennessee and Texas are among the 42 states that have lotteries. All net proceeds from these border-state lotteries support public education.