Alabama House debating passage of lottery bill

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MONTGOMERY, Ala — The Alabama House continued to debate Thursday night a bill that calls for a state lottery.

The bill, favored by Gov. Robert Bentley, would establish a proposed constitutional amendment that would go before voters. The measure, as written, would ask if they want a state lottery. It was approved by the Alabama Senate last Friday.

The measure would give 90 percent of lottery proceeds to the state’s general fund, 10 percent to education and the first $100 million in revenue to Medicaid.

Bentley has estimated a lottery would generate about $225 million annually for the state.

House leaders planned to move the bill out of committee Tuesday and to the floor for a full day of debate Wednesday, but procedural maneuvering scuttled that plan and delayed the debate.

The delay effectively prevented any lottery proposal that is ultimately approved from appearing on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.  Secretary of State John Merrill said state law requires any items for the Nov. 8 ballot to be approved by Aug. 24.

But some legislators questioned whether that was the actual deadline and pointed out that if a special election is required for a lottery vote, it would cost the state more than $5 million.

Attorney General Luther Strange issued an opinion Thursday that found Merrill – whose office oversees state elections — has discretion to move the deadline for ballot inclusion until Aug. 26.

But Merrill disagreed, saying it’s a hard and fast deadline.

It is all but certain that a special election for a lottery measure would have a lower turnout than if the measure were on a general election ballot.

The House debate began Thursday morning and was expected last late into the night.

Alabama Rep. Phil Williams, R-Madison, offered an amendment that would add a four-cent sales tax to lottery ticket sales. That measure was hotly debated. States tax lottery winnings at different rates from zero to up to 9 percent. Lottery winnings are also subject to federal taxes.

There does not appear to be another that includes a sales tax for lottery tickets, but Williams argued the money could be used to help the Alabama education budget.