Leader Blues

Friday, August 07, 2009

TOP STORY >> Halter pushes virtues of lottery

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Even though Sen. Sue Madison wants the Arkansas Legislature to repeal the lottery, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is still looking at it “full steam ahead.”

He spoke at the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon Thursday at Sherwood Forest.

Halter said the call to revisit and repeal the lottery is disrespectful to the state’s voters who approved the lottery. “Two out of three voters aren’t wrong,” he said.

Halter said the lottery went before the people in the general election and was approved by a large margin.

“It passed in every county,” he said. Then it was approved in the state House by a 100-0 vote and in the Senate by a 35-0 vote. The scholarships will start next year.
Original plans called for the lottery to start in January, but it looks like it could be in October.

“That’s an extra $25 million for our scholarships,” Halter said.

“Now just months before we are ready to go, Madison (a Democrat senator from Fayetteville), who sponsored the bill and voted for it, now says, ‘Oops just kidding, let’s not have the lottery,’” Halter said. “That’s disrespecting the voters.”

Despite this bump, Halter strongly believes the lottery will do wonders for the state.

“I’ve been to hundreds of meeting across the state on this issue,” Halter said, “and the first thing everyone says is ‘Thank God for Mississippi.’”

“There is nothing in our water, there is nothing in our DNA that says we have to be 49th,” the lieutenant governor explained.

He said the state was been either 48th or 49th for his entire lifetime, and it is time to take a risk and do something new.

“Yes, the lottery is controversial. Just Google Arkansas lottery or Bill Halter, and you’ll see,” he said, but Halter believes it is worth the risk.

He said the state currently budgets about $48 to $49 million for college scholarships for state students.

“We will triple that amount with the lottery,” he said.

Halter expects the net proceeds from the lottery to be about $100 million and all that will go toward scholarships, plus the state will continue to budget its share in addition to the lottery.

“Let me say, first, middle and last. This is not about the lottery. It’s about the scholarships.”

Halter said the scholarship lottery is a $400 million enterprise. He said he couldn’t think of a business that large that doesn’t hit speed bumps.

“Mistakes will happen. We’ll correct them and move forward,” Halter explained.

He said the state lottery program is modeled somewhat after the Georgia scholarship program. “In the past 10 years, Georgia has provided scholarships for 1 million of its students to attend instate colleges. We can do even better,” Halter said.

How?

The requirements for the Arkansas lottery scholarship are less stringent. In Georgia, a high school student needs to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. For the Arkansas scholarship, the student must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average or score at least a 19 on the ACT college entrance exam.

The lottery scholarships would be available to any Arkansas high school senior who elects to go to an in-state college or university. Nontraditional students will also be able to apply for the scholarships as well as current college students.

The exact amount of the scholarships haven’t been worked out yet, Halter said, but if the lottery brings in the expected $100 million, then scholarships for students attending four-year institutions will be $5,000 a year, and for those attending two-year schools the scholarships will be worth $2,500 per year.

Halter says that comes very close to covering the full in-state-tuition costs. “That’s a big deal, a very big deal,” he said.

“If this lottery is as successful as I think it’s going to be, we’ll be able to go into any school and tell the students if they keep a 2.5 grade-point average you will have an opportunity to go to college,” Halter said.