Thursday, October 16, 2008

Arkansas Supreme Court keeps lottery on ballot

According to this story, the Arkansas Supreme Court has decided that we humble voters can decide whether to allow a statewide lottery.

Good for them, and phooey on the Arkansas Family Council for bringing a lawsuit and trying to keep the issue off the November ballot. It's typically a leftist move to run to the courts and try to keep people from voting on issues. The Arkansas Family Council -- a conservative group based in Little Rock -- ought to be ashamed of using leftie tactics to keep an issue from appearing before the voters.

Now, don't get me wrong. I hate the idea of an Arkansas lottery, but I'd rather have that issue presented to voters than letting the state Supreme Court take an active role in the legislative process. I'm a conservative and, as such, I have more faith in my fellow Arkansans than in the state's various institutions.

Why do I hate lotteries? More often than not, they are dreamed up by cowardly lawmakers who are afraid to push for tax increases. Also, the funds are fungible, meaning that the money that was once used to pay for the programs now financed by lotteries are moved to other things.

Arkansas Lieutenant Gov. Bill "Clintonista" Halter has claimed a lottery could raise $100 million for education. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, meanwhile, estimates the lottery could raise $55 million. Whichever estimate is right, it's pretty clear that there would be a substantial sum to award in the form of academic scholarships in Arkansas.

But what of the money that's going toward scholarships now? Yes, that will quietly be tucked away in the general fund with absolutely no subsequent tax break for the tax-paying public. In other words, the state government that already has plenty of cash will just get more -- a fact that is not being disclosed at all by proponents of the lottery amendment.

Such trickery annoys me. Not long ago, for example, the sales tax on food was cut in Arkansas. That was wildly popular, of course, but the state government simply made up for the loss by taxing other things. It wasn't a tax cut at all.

Also, what happens to programs financed by the lottery should revenue come in at far less than expected? Hell, we've got Clintonista Halter saying this measure will bring in $100 million while the Department of Finance and Revenue estimates the program will net $55 million. That's a pretty big gulf, of course, leading one to suspect it's hard to project just how much revenue will be brought in by a lottery.

That's a major problem when it comes to budgeting. Let's say the lottery is wildly popular and routinely brings in $100 million. So, programs are put in place that are dependent on the lottery for revenue. What happens to that program when revenue drops to, say, $70 million? Are programs simply cut? Remember, we can't go back to the cash that is now paying for scholarships and grants -- that will be applied elsewhere.

One might argue that such uncertainty is typical as you get drops in tax revenue when the economy goes bad. However, bear in mind that this state is well financed and its budget surpluses aren't uncommon. In other words, programs that are paid for by honest-to-goodness taxes are based on a solid foundation as far as funding is concerned.

Finally, I have a major problem with all the hubbub over a statewide lottery because it takes the focus off the real problem in this state when it comes to college education. Namely, we're 49th in the country in terms of how many citizens hold at least a bachelor's degree. We're sending plenty of Arkansans to Arkansas, so what's happening to them?

A lot of them aren't staying here. My brother, for example, graduated first in his class with a bachelor's in chemical engineering that he earned at the University of Arkansas. He graduated second in his class with an optometry degree from Chicago. Where is he now? He's in North Carolina. Why? Because he couldn't find a job that paid well in Arkansas.

Most of my brother's friends who received degrees in engineering are out of states because they can't find jobs in Arkansas. Those backing the state lottery claim that offering more scholarships will ultimately result in a more educated workforce and that will boost the economy of the state.

History has shown, however, that plenty of Arkansas kids are earning degrees, but they're heading elsewhere. A lottery, then, is a terrible investment -- what we're asking Arkansas citizens to do is finance the educations of people who will wind up in California, North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere.

We can throw all the money at education we want, but until we figure out how to bring more jobs to this state it will all be for naught.


lala said...

Well, one of the issues is however, that Arkansas is more than likely losing money to surrounding states who have lotteries. Tenn/OK/Missouri (not sure if Texas does). That's one of the reasons why it finally passed in NC because people were driving across all borders to buy tickets and the state finally decided they may as well take the money and use it for themselves.

The Natural State Hawg said...

lala -- Yes, that's one of the issues and a valid one. My primary objections to this, however, remain the fungibility issue and the fact that we're essentially talking about a tax increase that's disguised as something else.

Considering how this state winds up with a surplus quite often (and that's after everything from "A" list priority projects to "C" list kinda nice to have projects are paid for), its just not equitable for us to keep paying taxes at the same levels.

Now, if they'd couple this proposal with a drop in, say, the state sales tax, I'd be inclined to support it.

Regardless, I'm still glad to see that this issue will be presented to the voters. Nothing bugs me more than some little specialist interest group wading in and denying the voters their right to decide issues such as these.

I may be against the lottery, but I'm happy to let my fellow Arkansans decide it for themselves.

Da Old Man said...

I'm sure Arkansas is no different than NJ when it cmes to politicians and their ability to squander money.
In the 1960's, in NJ, we had a referendum to decide whether we should have a sales tax or a state income tax. A 3% sales tax was chosen. In 1969, we chose to have a lottery to aid education.

Today, we have a 7% sales tax, and an income tax. We have several lotteries.
And, the state is near bankrupt with not nearly enough money to fund education. Every dime gets spent, and they come back looking for more.
I can assure you, your fine state will be looking back at the same scenario. It's the nature of a politician.

lala said...

LOL...I understand your point, I do. But every state wastes money.

NC even calls theirs "The North Carolina Education Lottery"

NC's liquor stores are state run and a portion is split between roads and schools.

So between the lottery and liquor sales, NC should have the best roads and schools in the state.

They don't.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Da Old Man -- All too true. Another thing that's annoyed me is what happened a few years ago when the state had a huge budget surplus. Any attempts to cut taxes and return that cash were met with heavy resistance.

The state blew that cash on some nonsense (I can't remember what it was -- I'm a bit Freudian in that regard) and started to worry about revenue when the economy tanked. Typical. The government won't give a thing back once they swipe it -- they just spend it and ask for more.

lala -- Yes they do. And I'm inclined not to give them any more to waste.

It does appear the state is very good at spending to its income then wanting more. said...

I agree with what you wrote, especially the aspect that a state lottery is essentially another tax.

However, many Arkansans already play the lottery - albeit in another state. They go to Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and others to play the lottery, instead of that money staying here in Arkansas.

So how do we reconcile that?

Or can we?