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Record lottery sales prompt questions about need to cut HOPE

Feb 5, 2004, 6:21 am

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Georgia Lottery

Record sales figures show the Georgia lottery is hotter than ever, prompting some legislators to question whether they need to cut the HOPE scholarship program this fall.

Ticket sales of $1.3 billion from July through December 2003 were $71 million more than the same period the previous year, a 5 percent increase, state lottery officials said Wednesday.

And ticket revenue continues to grow. January sales also were up $7 million over last January, despite competition from the new Tennessee lottery, said lottery spokesman J.B. Landroche.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sonny Perdue and others have been pushing to cut the HOPE program, amid warnings that costs for the scholarships and technical grants are growing faster than lottery receipts. If nothing is done, economists say, lawmakers would need to dip into lottery reserves by 2007 to cover the scholarship costs. By the end of the decade, all the money could be gone.

On Monday, bills were simultaneously introduced in the House and Senate that propose ending payments for books and fees starting this fall and setting a new standard for calculating high school grade point averages.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, an opponent of the cuts, said the updated sales figures should be more cause for reconsideration.

I hope this will cause the governor and Legislature to slow down, to not cut this program this year, not break their promise to these kids in college ... and not shift $125 million in (books and fees) costs to these kids and their families, said Taylor, who noted that lottery sales have increased every year since its inception.

But Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan said the governor isnt swayed by the latest lottery figures, which cant be taken for granted.

Lottery revenue could be up this month, down the next month, McLagan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Republican Sen. Bill Hamrick of Carrollton, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said the state still needs a longterm plan. With college enrollment growing, costs for the program will dventually outpace lottery revenue, he said.

More than 100,000 students relied on the funding last year. The program is so popular that it has been expanded many times since its 1993 inception, adding generous boosts that voters loved but economists say now threaten the fiscal health of the program. HOPE cost $21.4 million in 1993-94 but cost $357 million last year.

I dont think this growth in lottery revenue changes what were proposing, Hamrick said. If you dont do something soon, the train wreck is only going to be put off a few miles down the track.

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