OKLAHOMA CITY (September 19, 2007) - Although Gov. Brad Henry's lottery director wants to divert education's share of lottery funding, that plan is "dead on arrival" according to leaders of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
"The voters of Oklahoma were told lottery profits would go to our schools and any effort to divert that money is a violation of the voter's trust," said state Rep. Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican who chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
This week Gov. Brad Henry's lottery director Jim Scroggins and other officials with the governor's lottery commission announced that they will ask lawmakers to slash education funding by diverting lottery revenue. Commission officials want the money spent on their own bureaucracy and promotional efforts instead of public schools.
Commission officials have been arguing for the diversion since last March.
House leaders noted that Scroggins receives a base salary of $175,000 per year. Scroggins also received a $25,000 bonus for the launch of lottery tickets sales and another $25,000 bonus when online ticket sales begin.
"Director Scroggins is one of the highest-paid lottery officials in the region, yet the Oklahoma Lottery has been an abject failure on his watch," said House Majority Whip Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher. "Only months before the statewide lottery vote, Governor Henry was promising it would provide $300 million in new money every year for schools. Now the system is expected to generate only $70 million. Governor Henry and Director Scroggins have clearly overpromised and underdelivered and now they want to compound the problem by diverting our schools' rapidly declining share of lottery revenue. I see no reason to punish schoolchildren for the folly of bureaucrats."
The program approved by Oklahoma voters requires that education programs receive 30 percent of lottery proceeds during the first two years of operation and 35 percent in all subsequent years.
However, Scroggins and other lottery officials have said lawmakers should repeal the law giving 35 percent of lottery funds to education and instead divert a large share of that cash to pay for commission staff and slightly increase payout on scratch-off tickets.
Oklahoma law already requires that at least 45 percent of lottery revenue be used for prizes with another 20 percent designated for administrative costs.
If the Lottery Commission's recommendation were approved, millions of dollars would be cut from public school budgets to prop up the failing lottery.
"From his first day on the job, Director Scroggins has known that our schools would receive 35 percent of all lottery profits," said state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Moore Republican who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation Subcommittee. "If he has a problem with that, he should resign. We're not going to gut school funding to prop up the governor's failed lottery."
Terrill said State Treasurer Scott Meacham, who designed the lottery, must also accept responsibility for the lottery's plummeting performance.
"Instead of spending his time worrying about global warming and power plant issues, Scott Meacham needs to start doing his job," Terrill said. "Thanks to 'Meacham math,' the state has a lottery that generates about $1 for every $4 promised, a tobacco tax that has fallen millions short of his projections, and multi-million dollar casinos across the state that pay virtually no taxes or fees. At this point, it looks like a kid with a Wal-Mart calculator could do a better job than our state treasurer - and that's pretty scary."