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BP, lottery bills pass in House, Senate

Two topics dominated conversation during Gov. Robert Bentley’s special session this week—a constitutional amendment calling for a lottery that would support the state General Fund, and a plan that would use a $1 billion oil spill settlement from BP to pay off the state’s looming debt.

The latter issue has seen far less resistance than the former, however, as the Alabama House of Representatives approved the plan Wednesday to use the oil spill settlement money to pay back money borrowed during a past budget shortfall and for road projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

BP is scheduled to pay the state $1 billion during the next 18 years, beginning in 2016, to compensate for damages to the region’s economy during 2010’s Deepwater Horizon crisis.

Chris Sells, Alabama House Representative of District 90, said that the BP settlement money would be split to cover 80 percent of two sizeable debts.

“There are two different debts we have—one for $161 billion and one for $400-plus million—and it would pay off 80 percent of those.  And it would free up money in the general fund that is scheduled to be paid on those loans every year,” Sells said.

“The $161 million is scheduled to be paid back by 2020, and there has not been one penny of that paid back yet.  And $190 million of that would go to Mobile and Baldwin counties for roadwork on Highway 98 and the new Beach Express to finish it out all the way to Interstate 65.”

The Alabama Senate passed a lottery bill Friday proposed by Gov. Bentley, albeit a heavily modified version, which will now be sent to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Passing by a margin of 21-12, the bill would add a constitutional amendment to voters’ ballots in November in an effort to establish a state lottery.

The original bill would have seen 100 percent of lottery revenue go to the general fund.  But due to some last-minute changes and a late 22-7 vote, the bill now would designate 10 percent of lottery revenue to the Education Trust Fund and $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid.

“I was kind of surprised about it passing the Senate, but it was actually a cleaner bill than I thought it was going to be,” Sells said.

“I felt like it was going to pass the House, but you can’t commit to vote on anything until you understand exactly what’s all in it.  And of course, it can be amended on the board to change the bill right in front of you.  It’s going to be interesting when it comes up to see what actually happens.”

Sells expects the bill to face roughly the same amount of opposition in the House as it did in the Senate.

“I do think the majority of the House will support it and send the lottery to the people for a vote, as long as it doesn’t change its direction or scope,” Sells said.

“Going to the people for a vote on the lottery bill and the BP bill would be a benefit for the citizens of the state, especially the BP bill.  If we can get the BP bill out of the Senate, that would take care of our shortfall right now.”