mcj-2019-11-20-news-mississippi-lottery

Scratch-off lottery tickets will be a common sight at many gas stations throughout Mississippi and even Monroe County, as they will become legal Nov. 25. Proceeds of the lottery are set to trickle down to Mississippi roads and schools to the tune of millions of dollars through time.

For years, the Mississippi Legislature has weighed the options of introducing a state lottery. Senate Bill 2001, also known as the Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Law, passed during the 2018 first extraordinary session.

Net proceeds of up to $80 million will go towards infrastructure through the Mississippi Highway Fund until June 30, 2028. According to the Mississippi Lottery Commission’s official website, mslotteryhome.com, all monies deposited in the Lottery Proceeds Fund after $80 million in a fiscal year will be transferred into the Educational Enhancement Fund.

From and after July 1, 2028, the net proceeds will continue to be deposited into the Lottery Proceeds Fund and shall be transferred to the State General Fund, except for the amounts over $80 million dollars, which will continue to be deposited in the Education Enhancement Fund, according to the website.

The state will join with several others by offering Powerball and Mega Millions tickets Jan. 30, adding to the pot.

Although all 82 counties stand to gain from the lottery, there are still several aspects to be explained of exactly how. Additionally, there is skepticism from some local officials about how beneficial the lottery will actually be.

Infrastructure

The cost of maintaining roads is steadily increasing due to materials. What Monroe County is anticipated to receive will be helpful.

“The county is set up to receive 35 percent of that money, which five percent goes to LSBP [Local System Bridge Program], 15 percent goes to our municipalities, and we keep 15 percent. The chart shows we’re in line to get $650,000,” said county road manager Sonny Clay, adding the amount is projected through a four-year period. “My thought is I don’t think it’s the answer to all of our problems with infrastructure, but it’s a help. It’s a beginning.”

He added the $650,000 figure, which he said could help the county’s infrastructure significantly, could increase.

Clay said the county is expected to receive two checks per year – each January and each July. With the timing of the lottery’s beginning, the first check is expected to be received in July.

As with other efforts, he credited the Mississippi Association of Supervisors [MAS] for its help.

“[MAS officials] Steve Gray and Derrick Surrette have worked hard with the legislature to get additional money for the counties. They’ve encouraged their supervisors to stay in contact with our local representatives,” Clay said.

Surette added that emergency road and bridge funding in the form of a $250 million revenue anticipation bond is already counting on lottery proceeds.

“Much of that money has already been spent. Two hundred and 13 million was earmarked for distribution to counties or municipalities. Funding will be distributed based on need, per applications received. An important criterion is assessing the economic impact of a road or bridge that is out of service,” he said.

Education

Educational leaders across the state are largely skeptical about when and how much public education will benefit, however.

Among those remaining optimistic is Kelly Riley, the executive director of the Mississippi Professional Educators.

“When the Mississippi Legislature approved the lottery, they designated the first $80 million in revenue for state roads and designated any revenue beyond $80 million for our public schools,” she said. “This additional revenue for schools is needed, especially when you consider that the legislature has underfunded the statutorily mandated Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) funding formula by more than $2.5 billion since 2007, including underfunding the formula by $210 million in Fiscal Year 2020.

“While designating this new revenue stream for roads and schools is a step in the right direction, it will be critical that legislative leaders uphold the designation, as they have failed to do so with other designated revenue streams in the past, including gaming revenues that were to be used for classroom supplies. This lottery revenue will prove beneficial for a variety of school needs, including offering competitive teacher salaries, enhancing technology in our schools, providing more classroom supplies and decreasing class sizes.”

Phillip Burchfield, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, thinks the initiative for educational funding is tied to the election cycle.

“Education is always a priority during an election year. My only concern is that the priority tends to fall off afterward,” he said.

According to Burchfield, although $40 million is anticipated during the first year of the lottery, the length of time before education benefits is unknown since the first $80 million in proceeds is already earmarked for infrastructure. Initial benefits to education appear to be limited to better roads and bridges for school buses to use.

“Our roads are in pretty bad shape,” Burchfield said.

Mississippi Department of Education Director of Communications Patrice Guilfoyle shares Burchfield’s skepticism.

“It won’t happen for a while,” she said.

Lingering skepticism

District 7 Sen. Hob Bryan is known as a strong proponent of education and was forthright about his opinion of the lottery.

“It’s a terrible idea. Everything about the lottery is a fraud. The whole basis of the lottery is to swindle citizens, because the proceeds fall most heavily on lowest incomes,” he said.

Bryan complained that the bill was run through the legislature in a special session in only two days.

“The bill took the lottery out from under all safeguards or oversight including open meetings and open records laws,” he said.

Bryan pointed out that the problems with earmarking funding can be skewing by favorite interests or lobbying efforts, and education is seldom at the top of the list.

District 17 Sen. Charles A. “Chuck” Younger also champions the cause of education in Mississippi.

“I would like to have seen it all go to education,” he said about the funding earmarking.

Rather than the first proceeds going to infrastructure, Younger is pushing for a five cent statewide fuel tax to fund that need. Realistically, education shouldn’t be counting on lottery funding in his opinion.

Younger favors that the lottery proceeds go directly to Mississippi’s counties for distribution.

According to the retail locator on www.mslotteryhome.com, Sprint Marts in Aberdeen, Amory, Hamilton and Nettleton; southside Texaco in Aberdeen; Lackey Quick Mart; Blue Sky, Pig Discount Tobacco Store, Texaco T-Mart, S&J and Murphy Oil in Amory; Texaco T-Mart in Nettleton; and Texaco T-Mart in Smithville were the approved lottery ticket locations in Monroe County as the site’s last update on Nov. 14.

“I don’t think the lottery is the answer to everything. Whether you support it or not, it has been passed,” Clay said.

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