Keep the Faith 

The state made a commitment to its lottery scholars; it should stand by it.

Editor's note: Governor Phil Bredesen proposes to spend "excess" lottery revenues to endow a statewide pre-kindergarten program. State senator Cohen urges instead that the money be used to raise the ceiling of lottery-funded college scholarships. (See Politics, p. 11, for more information.)

The current debate about how to spend lottery revenues sidesteps a critical point: The determination of how lottery funds must be spent was made by the voters in November 2002.

Lottery proceeds are constitutionally dedicated to college scholarships. "Excess" revenues are directed to pre-kindergarten and after-school programs and capital outlay. The intent of the law, the ballot language, the electoral debate, and the constitutional amendment itself all direct lottery revenues to scholarships first.
Any other agenda ignores the legislative intent of the amendment and the will of the people. I am confident that lottery revenues will prove sufficient for their primary purpose of scholarships and, ultimately, for pre-K as well.

In 2002 and 2003, education experts met for months, crafting lottery legislation. They recommended scholarships of $4,000 for students attending four-year schools and $2,000 for students attending junior colleges.

During the implementation of lottery legislation in 2003, fears based on faulty revenue figures were used to convince lawmakers that the needed funds would not be available. Ultimately, scholarships were scaled back to ceilings of $1,500 for two-year colleges and $3,000 for four-year institutions.

Those fears proved to be unfounded. In 2003, I told the state Senate that the lottery would net $210 million its first year. That is also what the state funding board, based on 11 months of sales, forecast for the first fiscal year. The lottery actually netted $235 million.

In its first year, the Tennessee lottery raised twice as much as was spent on scholarships. The extremely conservative state funding board has projected lottery revenues of $220 million for next year -- enough for full scholarships and abundant excess too.

In December, the federal Department of Education announced financial eligibility changes that are expected to take away Pell grants from 80,000 to 90,000 students nationwide and reduce the amount of Pell grants for another 1.3 million students. More than 86,000 Tennesseans now receive Pell grants. Last year, tuition was increased by both the University of Tennessee and the Board of Regents. Tuition will be increased again this year, further diminishing the value of a $3,000 scholarship.

I have a fiduciary duty, based on a contract with the voters in the 2002 election, to ensure that there are $4,000 lottery scholarships, as promised.

These are not trivial matters to Tennessee families. Lottery revenues should not be in play because some want to divert lottery funds, contrary to the people's constitutional mandate. Continuing to award students "half a loaf" is not best for our state.

The Legislature needs to fulfill its mandate from the citizens of Tennessee. Government cannot deal in broken promises and expect public trust. I urge everyone, especially those who are beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries of lottery scholarships, to contact your state senator and state representative and urge that lottery revenues adequately fund college scholarships, as promised. n

State senator Steve Cohen, D-Midtown, is universally regarded as the "father" of the Tennessee lottery, having labored 19 years in the Legislature to get it established.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Blogs

We Saw You

Foaming at the mouth at Cooper-Young Beerfest

News Blog

New Mural Installed on Highland Strip

News Blog

Terminix: A Ghost? In Memphis, Probably a Roof Rat

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies to waive or trade Baldwin, Zagorac today

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Eric Hughes

From My Seat

NBA 2017-18: We’ve Been Here Before

Tiger Blue

Tigers 30, #25 Navy 27

Intermission Impossible

How Very: "Heathers" is Halloween Candy that Won't Make Your Tummy Hurt

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Steve Cohen

  • The Future of Energy

    Why President Obama’s Clean Power Plan matters.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Detoxing Drug Laws

    Congress needs to follow the example of Attorney General Eric Holder.
    • Aug 29, 2013
  • Protect Student Loans

    Congress must act quickly to keep our students from being priced out of an education.
    • May 9, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A Letter to the Memphis City Council

    The council gets an “F” for its performance on the Greensward decision.
    • Mar 10, 2016
  • Donald Trump is no accidental hillbilly

    • Aug 24, 2017
  • Detention Deficit

    Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."

    • Mar 10, 2016
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation