Lottery crossfire | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lottery crossfire

Posted By on Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Andrew DeMillo analyzes the political warfare underway between the legislature and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (with Gov. Mike Beebe looking on with amusement at the legislature's increasingly contemptuous treatment of Halter). It's about the shape of the state lottery, which wouldn't exist but for Bill Halter. The legislators who opposed it won't let Halter into their little boys' clubhouse.

I spent a lot of time on the phone last week trying to puzzle out whether the legislature has a legitimate beef that the lottery amendment is badly flawed because it sets the new lottery apart from the normal appropriation process. I don't think they're right. But if they are, the amendment gives them the ultimate veto power -- shutting the whole thing down.

At the same time, I've yet to hear from Halter a simple explanation -- other than the fact that the structure mimics those in other states -- for pointedly bypassing the normal appropriation process, except for an obvious aim to reduce legislative influence on high-dollar decisions such as executive pay, marketing, vendors. Legislators gave good reason for this provision when they trotted up on a junket to a major lottery vendor in Rhode Island, now presumed to have wined and dined its way into their hearts.

It's also true that, through the amendment's language, the state lottery will be empowered to take on debt of some form. Legislators are trying to make much of this and authorship of the amendment by a big law firm that does a lot of bond work for state agencies. I think that's probably a red herring. An agency with startup costs and an uncertain cash flow probably needs some borrowing power.

Halter wrote and passed the thing. He knows what he meant to do with it. The people, nearly two-thirds of them, liked it. He should be invited to the Little Apalachin-style legislative mafia meetings that are forming the legislation. Better still, they should do more work in public.

Parakeet in the coal mine? If the legislature's bill doesn't mandate absolute transparency and provide for absolute ethical accountablity -- no gifts, no revolving door to the lobby -- you'll know we're dead.

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