by Max Brantley
House Speaker Robbie Wills yesterday released the outline of lottery legislation.
Some points to quarrel with (and probably more to come):
1) Gifts of more than $100 to lottery employees were prohibited. Big effen deal. You can have a pretty luxurious meal in Arkansas for $99.99. There will be lots of them if a Wal-Mart rule isn't imposed on lottery employees and commissioners. Lots of them. If vendors have business to discuss, let them make an office appointment. This institutionalizes the grab-what-you-can culture that permeates the legislature. Ask lobbyists if they know legislators who'll call them up for a credit card number to charge meals. I dare you. This is little different, but it will work with people with direct control -- outside of public view -- of spending millions of dollars. Plug the sewer before it opens. And make sure we can have instant access to records of money spent on official travel, at state expense, by those operating this enterprise.
2) The added scholarship grants for students in select disciplines -- science, technology, etc. A small additional grant won't affect appreciably the number that enroll in these courses (or eventually choose these fields as vocations). Interest and aptitude ultimately will control that. Make college education equally cheaper for all and watch the societal benefits accrue. (I know, I've lost this battle before it starts. But somebody has to fight for the poets and French majors.)
3) UNBELIEVABLE. Wills envisions "scholarship" payments to high school students enrolled in concurrent enrollment courses at state colleges. Call this the UCA bailout clause. How simple should it be? That you receive college scholarships when you have a high school diploma. It makes meaningless the entry standards for every other scholarship program. It's a direct college subsidy, a work-around to the promised formula that money would follow only students, not colleges. If this happens, get ready for an all-out push by colleges (particularly those in population centers) to swell treasuries with concurrent enrollment, as UCA did in the go-go years. It's bad policy from the representative from, where else, Conway?
Some more random questions:
1) Identity politics. Race, gender, etc. is to be "considered" in appointments. Landmines there.
2) Minority business is to be encouraged. Does that mean it's to be encouraged by means of hiring a minority contractor at a handsome sum to "facilitate" such matters? Might the contractor do well to be related to a public official? There are precedents for this concern.
3) Boodling. Only vendors or applicants are covered by the gift ban. Is a lobbyist a vendor?
4) Political contributions to public officials prohibited. Are they prohibited to employees, commissioners, etc., who might run for office in the future?
5) Retailers. They can give payola up to $100 to commissioners. Why not ZERO?
6) Procurement contracts exempt from the state purchasing law. Explain please. I know, competitive bidding is said to be required.
7) Promotion and marketing. This is a pot of money that the advertising community (that includes newspapers) is eying hungrily. Politics will play a powerful role in how this money is split up. It will be ugly. And the language again appears to provide for minority set-aside considerations when it talks of target audiences. Watch this aspect closely as the months roll by.