House gives final approval to extending life of Lottery Commission

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- The Texas House gave its final approval Wednesday to legislation continuing the Texas Lottery Commission but called for an interim study to examine the possibility of phasing out the game of chance and finding other ways to help finance the state's public schools.

Final approval of HB2197 by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, came on an 88-54 vote, one day after lawmakers voted to kill the growingly unpopular lottery before changing their minds.

Anchia's bill would continue and expand the commission, the governing board that oversees the lottery and charitable bingo. But House members added an amendment that would create a joint legislative committee to study the impact of "winding up" the state lottery and determine the potential impact on state revenue.

The 10-member committee would submit its findings in advance of the next Legislature, which will convene in January 2015.

House members defeated another amendment that would have ended the lottery in four years.

"Many of my constituents who voted for the lottery have developed buyers' remorse," said John Smithee, R-Amarillo, author of the amendment.

The lottery was created by voters in the early 1990s as a source of education revenue, but Smithee said that public schools, in terms of real dollars, probably have less funding now than when the lottery started.

"And so this promise that we're going to provide better funding for our children's education simply hasn't come to pass," he said.

Anchia acknowledged widespread misgivings about the lottery but said that his bill on the Texas Lottery Commission would be the wrong vehicle to deal with the game itself. The lottery provides more than $2 billion biennially to schools, funding that Anchia said would be in jeopardy if lawmakers abruptly killed the commission.

In a surprise vote Tuesday, House members rejected Anchia's bill after lottery foes blasted the games as a repressive tax on the poor and an unreliable source of funding for schools.

Anchia and other supporters scrambled to change minds, prompting House members to reconsider and give the bill preliminary approval.

Anchia said Tuesday's debate underscored "heartfelt misgivings about the lottery" among House members, including those who have moral and ethical misgivings about the state-supported gambling enterprise.

Lottery supporters and opponents alike, he said, "share discomfort with the fact that they we are raising money for public education through the lottery."

Rep. Michael "Mike" Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said his amendment creating the interim study would enable the state to determine "how to wean ourselves off of lottery revenue" and establish other funding sources for schools.

The study committee would include five senators appointed by the lieutenant governor and five House members appointed by the speaker.

The committee's mandate would include studying "potential time frames for phasing out the state lottery" and "potential consequences of the absence of the lottery on the state budget and the programs affected."

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said the panel should "take a hard look" at the potential impact on the Veterans Cash scratch-off game, which was created in 2009 through legislation authored by Turner. The games have raised $26.9 million for veterans' assistance programs, Turner said.

If the lottery is discontinued, he said, lawmakers should find other funding streams to assist veterans, "because they certainly have earned that respect and help."

Anchia's bill is part of the state's sunset process that requires all state agencies to be periodically reviewed.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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