Lottery fast track | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lottery fast track

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Gerard Matthews will have a full report later, but it sounds like the legislature's lottery oversight committee signed off on Director Ernie Passailaigue's budget and pay proposals. Sen. Johnny Key had some sharp questioning of some flaws in details and the sole "no" vote.

The big pay for top assistants drew little objection. I note Capsearch Twitter posts that quote House Speaker Robbie Wills thusly:

* Wills says he wants Arkansans to understand why lottery staff earns handsome salaries: big bucks for education.

* Wills uses football analogy and says Arkansasans pay football coaches (and assistants) a lot and understand what they pay for.

Some thoughts. 1) At the highest level, paying big bucks for experienced workers who can hit the ground running has some justification. It has no justification for people who answer phones and do the dozens of jobs for which specific lottery experience is not a requirement, or much of one. 2) It is simply wrong to link state government pay to revenue production. 3) Some people, believe it or not Speaker Wills, DON'T understand football staff pay Or six-figure pay for lottery functionaries. It is a blood insult to thousands of state employees who do more important work to suggest lottery employees deserve more money simply because it's easy to get people to gamble.

BY THE WAY: Ernie P. was heard to comment about "negative" media. That will all go away when the scholarship money rolls in, he says.

You think?

Not if our lottery follows patterns elsewhere over time. Dwindling return with ever edgier ways to promote more gambling (Keno, video lottery terminals, on-line gambling, etc.)  The realization at the end that you really haven't helped buttress spending on the targeted recipient, just given legislators a false sense of the adequacy of financing. See: California lottery and its beleaguered public schools. See: South Carolina where a study showed college is less affordable for the average student than it was when the lottery began.


Actually the salary for the top VP slots was an area of criticism from some legislators.  Rep. Buddy Lovell (D-Marked Tree) asked if a $90,000 raise from one potential VP from South Carolina and an $85,000 raise for another was justified.  Passailaigue reiterated time and again his belief that hiring two vice presidents with lottery experience would save the commission time and money because the lottery would get off the ground and start producing money sooner. 

The committee voted to approve the lottery commission's request for pool positions which would allow Passailaigue to start hiring and paying employees.  The proposal included the two somewhat-controversial VP positions.  Bill Stovall, who works for the House, said the document, while potentially confusing (I believe he said "we're fitting some square pegs into some round holes") was legal.  He, together with the staff at the Bureau of Legislative Research, had to come up with a list of positions that met the staffing needs of the lottery but also fell within the guidelines set forth in the statute.  Rep. Key, as noted above, was the only member of the committee to vote no, saying, "If I get a question about this from the people back home, I'm afraid I can't answer it."  Key said there were some technical inconsistencies in the document itself, which was why he voted the way he did.  Politically, it looks great for Key.  He knew the yea votes were going to be there and took the opportunity to voice opposition so he can preach fiscal responsibility back home.    

The commission also passed a "favorable review" of the lottery commission's operating budget (mentioned in yesterday's report).

Passailaigue defended his actions as executive director thus far and admitted that the members  of the committee would likely draw criticism from the media.  He said it was difficult for the average person to understand why someone would require such a high salary, and the legislators would likely hear from their constituents as a result.  After the meeting had adjourned, Passailaigue was asked if he felt he had brought the legislators around to his way of thinking. 

"I'm a firm believer in life that you get what you pay for.  What I'm trying to do is what has been done in the most successful lottery start-up in the world and that's in Tennessee.  If it works here in Arkansas, everybody will be celebrating.  If it doesn't, then I'll be heading back to South Carolina," he said.  

-- Gerard Matthews


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