Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

TOP STORY >> Education funded by lottery will help state

Leader staff writer

Bill Halter, the Arkansas lieutenant governor who stepped out of the traditional role of his office to push through a state lottery to fund college scholarships, told Beebe area residents Monday why he made the effort.

“It’s not at all about having a lottery,” Halter said. “It’s always been about funding scholarships. The lottery is merely a funding mechanism.”

Halter spoke during a breakfast organized by the Beebe Economic Develop-ment Commission, saying there is a correlation between economic development and education.

“If you look at every reputable study in economic development, you’ll see that what drives sustainable higher income level is education,” he said.

Arkansas is 49th in the nation —ahead of only West Virginia — in percentage of adults with college degrees, Halter said, adding that all his life, Arkansas has been 48th or 49th in per-capita income. The only way to change that is better education, he said.

Although the official duties of an lieutenant governor are presiding over the state Senate with a tie-breaking vote and serving as governor if the governor is out of state or leaves office, Halter said his commitment to the voters who elected him was to get the lottery on the ballot.

With the help of Little Rock businessman John Bailey and family who reportedly donated $400,000 to the petition campaign to get the initiative on the ballot, state voters overwhelmingly approved the lottery in November. And all that was left was for the state legislature to set up its administration.

Gov. Mike Beebe signed that legislation into law last week and now the commission that will oversee the lottery must hire a director and get the tickets in the convenience stores.

House District 49 Rep. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe), who arranged the breakfast meeting, said lottery tickets should go on sale by the end of the year.

District 44 Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) and District 48 Rep Davy Carter (R-Cabot), also attended the breakfast meeting. Halter praised the three state representatives for helping to pull together the legislation setting up the administration of the lottery.

Halter said the lottery is expected to bring in $100 million a year. Although Arkansas is the 43rd state to establish a lottery, it is the first to dedicate all the profits to college scholarships, he said.

Students with an average grade point of 2.5 will be eligible for the awards.

Halter said if collections go as expected, students should get $2,500 a year for two-year programs and $5,000 a year for four-year programs, almost full tuition at most institutions, he said.

Halter said about 30 percent of the gross proceeds will go to college scholarships. Most of the 70 percent left will go to the prizes, but some will be used to reimburse the stores that sell the tickets.

But in response to a question from Eugene McKay, chancellor at ASU-Beebe where the breakfast was held, Halter said although the person hired to run the lottery will likely not be paid the reported $490,000, the salary will have to be significant to draw qualified candidates.