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Arkansas lottery plan garners some support

Jan 11, 2008, 9:11 am

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Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter found support Thursday among Arkansas' city officials for his proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state-run lottery.

The proposal, for which supporters are gathering signatures to place on the November general election ballot, would earmark lottery proceeds for college scholarships.

Using a football analogy Thursday, Halter pitched his proposal to the winter conference of the Arkansas Municipal League as a way to move Arkansas from mired at or near the bottom in national rankings on education issues.

He compared the perpetual low rankings — Arkansas has one of the lowest percentages of adults with college degrees in the nation — to a team that continually runs the ball without success.

"It's time for us to throw the football," Halter said. "If status quo is going to get us the same old results, I for one am tired of the same old results."

During a 90-minute session, conferees also discussed two proposals placed on the ballot by the Legislature last year — annual legislative sessions and allowing the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to issue up to $300 million in general obligation bonds for water and waste water projects, though the controversial lottery amendment got the most attention.

"Voters need to have the opportunity to decide this for themselves," Halter said.

During a question-and-answer period, Dwight Booth, an alderman from Manila in Northeast Arkansas, asked for a show of hands of those who had purchased a lottery ticket in a neighboring state and most of the hands shot up.

However, one city official chided the state's No. 2 elected official for proposing a lottery.

"How can you base a hope on something that is unsure like a lottery," Willia Kerby, a Green Forest City Council member, asked Halter.

"The lottery teaches you that you get something for nothing, and education is something you have to work for. It takes discipline, it takes hard work, it takes perseverance. Those are the kinds of things we need to teach in Arkansas," Kerby said. "Just because 42 other states have the lottery doesn't mean it's the best for Arkansas."

She also asked Halter if his mother ever asked him if he would jump in front of a train if everyone else was doing it. Halter said she had, many times.

"But she also told me in 100 different ways to be enlightened by the experience around you, to look at the facts, look at what goes on in other places, to learn from that ... absolutely try to address this, not only with an open mind, but by also digging into the facts and digging into the experience of others," he said.

Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment have until July 7 to gather 77,468 signatures of registered voters to get the proposal on the November ballot.

During the session, Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale, and Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, discussed Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 on the ballot, which would allow for annual sessions.

The measure, referred to the ballot by the Legislature, would authorize the Legislature to hold 30-day budget session in even-numbered years in addition to regular sessions held in odd-numbered years.

Harris said budget sessions would allow lawmakers to more rapidly address economic upturns or downturns.

Under the proposal, a three-fourths majority in both chambers would be required to extend the current 60-day regular sessions by 15 days, instead of the current simple majority vote.

During budget sessions, a two-thirds majority vote would be required to discuss non-budget issues.

Randy Young, director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, discussed Referred Question 1, which would allow the state Natural Resources Commission to issue up to $300 million in general obligations bonds for financing and refinancing of water and wastewater projects.

Proposed Amendment 1, also referred to the ballot by the Legislature, was not discussed Thursday. It would remove obsolete language from the state constitution, such as references to the poll tax, which were struck down in the 1960s. The amendment would also give the state the power to set the qualifications for election officers.

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