Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Already hitting the jackpot

A lottery is all about making dreams come true, right? The Arkansas Lottery hasn’t sold a single scratch-off or Powerball ticket but it’s making the wildest dreams come true almost every day. Monday it was the turn of Sheriff Lance Huey of Sheridan, the hometown of the state Lottery Commission chairman, Ray Thornton.

The sheriff of little Grant County landed a job with the state lottery for a $70,000 raise. He will make $115,644 a year to be in charge of security at the lottery offices at Little Rock. He will be the highest paid law-enforcement person in Arkansas history.

Here’s a comparison that a reporter made Monday. Huey’s salary will exceed that of the director of the State Police, who directs the work of almost a thousand people who investigate criminal activity from border to border and patrol the highways of the state. The State Police director got a raise last week and will earn $108,083 if the State Police Commission gave him the maximum allowed by the appropriation, $7,000 less than Sheriff Huey.

Ernie Passailaigue, the $324,000-a-year director of the lottery, had an explanation for paying his man so much more than the State Police chief or any other law-enforcement official in the state. The State Police director has hundreds of well-trained troopers to help him enforce the laws across the state, Passailaigue said. Huey will have to police the lottery by himself. He won’t be just a security guard but he will be the person who makes sure that convenience store owners and other lottery vendors don’t cheat the state out of its share of lottery receipts and that people don’t work scams on the lottery. The guy is going to have to work so hard the next six months, by Passailaigue’s account, that people ought to feel sorry for him.

Last week, Passailaigue hired two assistants from South Carolina at $225,000 each and a couple of young lawyers who had associations with legislators, Lottery Chairman Thornton or the state attorney general at salaries of $105,000, far above their old state pay grades. His first hire as public relations, legislative and commission liaison director (she polishes relations with legislators and key politicians) was a former aide to the retired Thornton. Her salary is $105,000.

The constitutional amendment that voters approved last year frees the lottery from the normal restrictions on compensation and hiring that apply to the other 100,000 or so state and local government workers in Arkansas. It can pay as many people as it wants as much as it wants, if the Lottery Commission approves. We now see why that little proviso was included.

The lottery has about 80 more jobs to go. You must presume that all of them will go at rates far above the prevailing compensation for similar government work in Arkansas. If you have a connection with one of the lottery commissioners or a legislator, go for it. This lottery is a party like Arkansas has never seen. You miss out on it at your regret.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.