LOTTERY SPONSORS SEEK WINNING NUMBER 

LOTTERY SPONSORS SEEK WINNING NUMBER

from Nashville Bureau Report:

After flirting with the idea of a big gubernatorial press event to announce his own proposal for the lottery, Gov. Phil Bredesen retreated to the role of benevolent CEO and lobbed his wish list to his board of directors, the General Assembly. On Tuesday a press conference had been scheduled to unveil the governor's ideas for the lottery, after a week of executive trial balloons about cutting the anticipated lottery revenue in half and not enacting scholarships until 2004. The press conference was canceled at the last minute and the governor used the Wednesday leadership conference to "make suggestions" to the Democratic leadership of the legislature. By Thursday afternoon even Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), the godfather of the lottery, had gotten the word. Bredesen's original disagreement had been over who gets to appoint the lottery board. In Georgia it's the governor, in Tennessee it was to be the legislature. Bredesen wanted to appoint the board himself. "I've been up here since Ray Blanton," Cohen said last week, "and I feel like it's similar to Ray Blanton in the matter of administrative arrogance and power. It's something this lottery should not be exposed to. It should be fairness and fair play and a level playing field and be beyond politics." The governor's target income for the first year, $100 million, was about half of Cohen's guess. Cohen responded, "I don't want to scale it back at all, but the governor's talking about $100 million total [net proceeds available for scholarships], which might mean that kids only get two-thirds or three-fourths of a scholarship." By Thursday Cohen had his punch line down pat. "I look forward also to hearing from the governor - 741-4108 [Cohen's office number]." It had gotten a laugh at Senate State & Local earlier in the week. The governor "obviously is learning," Cohen said. "We've been working on this, Jimmy [Naifeh] and I, for at least 18 years. So there is a learning curve. He's catching up. I think some of his proposals aren't ripe yet." "We've got a duty to provide scholarships, and 'excess' goes to other areas. Scholarships come first.That's why I personally put the words 'excess funds' in there, so there would have to be an adequate scholarship program like Georgia's because that's what we're patterned after. Not two-thirds scholarship program, whittle it down so you've got money for other things, possibly pork," Cohen said. "One hundred million dollars is unrealistic, that's unrealistic. Two hundred million dollars is conservative." But finally on Thursday afternoon, the two appeared to reach a tentative agreement on a scholarship amount slightly higher than Bredesen's original $100 million. Cohen suggested Bredesen may be willing to use a first year estimate as high as $117 million. And scholarships may be authorized in the 2003 session and the amount set in 2004. Bredesen (according to reports) now favors a lottery board of three gubernatorial appointees and one each from the speaker of each house, rather than three appointments each. All sides agreed the amount granted to public school students and private school students should be equal. At a legislative press availability Thursday, representatives went to some trouble to remind the governor, long distance, of the rules of the legislative game - if it ain't on paper, it ain't happening. House Majority Leader Kim McMillan (D-Clarksville): "The governor is beginning to make some suggestions about some ideas that he has. ...He has enumerated some of those suggestions. They are not in a bill, they are not in writing at this point, he is just making suggestions for us to start beginning to consider." "We will consider those options, and when he comes forward, if he does, with a formal amendment, I'm sure that Rep. Newton will consider that and we'll look at it through the committee process." Since McMillan would carry the governor's program on the floor, her choice of terms is instructive. Bredesen and the legislators "did talk about the ethics problem, and that there not be a revolving door" for legislators to serve on the lottery board, said House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington). Naifeh said they talked as well about "the procurement process and the different annual reviews." State Rep. Chris Newton (R-Turtletown), said, "I welcome any comments, any suggestions, as the House sponsor. I look forward to seeing if there's something in writing. I look forward to seeing that. I am not going to criticize; I'm not going to make any kind of judgment or outright opposition to anything until I see something in writing. "I spoke to a couple of representatives from the governor's office yesterday and kind of highlighted a couple of items that are concepts - there is nothing in writing, and until I see something in writing we're going to move forward." The lottery setup bill advanced in both House and Senate, and the scholarship bill (HB 0787 Newton/SB 0437 Cohen) was on notice for Tuesday in House Government Operations. The lottery setup bill picked up baggage as it moved. In Senate State & Local Government, Chairman Cohen wasn't able to stop Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) from hiking the base commission to ticket-sellers to 6.5% from 5%. In the House State Government Subcommittee the same relief for retailers was sponsored by Rep. Harry Tindell (D-Knoxville). Tindell argued that although the amount is "higher than the regional average" that in fact "the average retailer just makes a few thousand dollars a year at this." Cohen said the increase would take more than $15 million out of the lottery corporation administration and would directly affect the ability to advertise lottery games. Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) added an amendment (already on the House bill) that would bar stand-alone ticket dispensing machines and ban the purchase of tickets with debit cards. Credit cards were already barred. Cohen said the change would cut lottery proceeds by as much as $20 million, directly affecting scholarship funding. Rep. Jim Vincent (R-Soddy-Daisy) added a bizarre amendment in the House subcommittee to allow legislators to seize an estimated $9 million in annual unclaimed winnings, divide it 132 ways (99 representatives, 33 senators) and pump it back into their own districts. "It cannot be pork because it's not tax money," Vincent argued. "We'll be roundly criticized for pursuing this," said Rep. Harry Tindell (D-Knoxville), with foresight. "It will be seen as more of a pork barrel or a Christmas tree vehicle." Vincent defended the idea with verve and aplomb. "Last week we discussed how the other states done this," he said. "I've changed it twicet to make sure it's legal." In any case, the sponsors decided to ask the Attorney General to rule on it.

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