Monday, September 24, 2007

Effort Launched To Diver Lottery Money From Education

Effort Launched To Divert Lottery Money From Education

In 2002, while campaigning for Governor, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry campaigned on a platform of financing Oklahoma public education through creation of the Oklahoma lottery. The lottery concept appears to have been presented to Oklahomans as a magic bullet to cure Oklahoma's education challenges, not unlike the House Bill 1017 sales tax increase, which was also presented to Oklahoma voters as an education solution. The lottery was to provide $500 million to the education system.

It is in fact generating only about $70 million per year for public education. This represents about 14% of the money originally predicted. For instance, in fiscal year 2008 lottery revenue will make up only around 2% - 3% of the amount state government gives to the local school districts in Crescent, Guthrie and Edmond. Worse still, Oklahoma politicians, in their haste to spend the money, have incurred millions of dollars of long term debt that must be paid back out of those revenues.

Since the lottery is performing so badly, in a move to cut costs, the Oklahoma Lottery Commission has moved its offices upstairs, turned the first floor of their building into rental space and opted not to refill four vacant staff positions.

Director Jim Scroggins and other officials with the Lottery Commission have announced that in order to cope with these issues, they will ask lawmakers to cut education funding by diverting some of the lottery revenue from education. Commission officials want part of the money spent for administrative costs and promotional efforts instead of public schools. Commission officials have been arguing for the diversion since last March.

The plan has met with strong opposition from leadership in the House of Representatives. Representative Chris Benge from Tulsa, who chairs the Appropriations and Budget Committee stated that "The voters of Oklahoma were told lottery profits would go to our schools and any effort to divert that money is a violation of the voters' trust."

In explaining the shortfall, Scroggins said the Oklahoma lottery competes with Indian gaming for revenue. According to the Office of State Finance, gross revenue from casinos in fiscal year 2007 was $777 million, compared to the approximate gross of $215 million spent on the Oklahoma lottery (with $70 million being sent to education).

I appreciate and support the leadership shown by Chairman Benge in keeping our commitment to the voters.

I expect that the failure of the lottery will lead lottery proponents to continue to propose various forms of lottery expansion, such as the addition of video lottery, Keno and pull-tabs. I also believe an effort will be made for the State of Oklahoma to compete with the tribes by getting into the casino business through the operation of state owned casinos.

In my view, growth of state sponsored gambling, combined with tribal gambling, will encourage Oklahoma politicians to call for expanding the welfare safety net for the poor, the largest societal group negatively affected by gambling losses.

We saw the results of similar expansion this year as legislators increased Medicaid eligibility limits, spending millions of your tax dollars in the process. How much sense does it make for government to seek to enhance government revenue by growing a gambling system that takes money from the poor, while at the same time spending millions on an increasing welfare system?

It appears to me that the primary net result of this bizarre, circular chain of events is an increase of government spending and government influence over people's lives.

Rather than conniving new ways to make money for government, state leaders should focus on diminishing the size and influence of government. I believe we all win when government interference in our lives is lessened. I am committed to supporting policies that achieve this goal.

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