With the tobacco smoke cleared, the backrooms now can work full-time on the lottery bill. Some day, the public might even be invited to take a look.
A glint of sunlight was provided this morning by John Brummett's blog item about a new constitutional amendment from Rep. Rick Green, HJR 1011. Brummett decried the impact of this amendment initially, though he later posted a rejoinder from an unnamed source who claimed Brummett had overstated matters. I don't think that's necessesarily so.
Here's the deal. The lottery amendment, overwhelmingly approved by voters, was written explicitly to keep the legislature OUT of the appropriation process for spending lottery proceeds. It set up an independent commission to run the independent agency. Legislative oversight is provided through its commission appointment power and through its handling of the trust fund set up with procees. But the agency is supposed to be able to hire people, choose vendors and pay them without the three-ring circus of a legislative process driven by hungry lobbyists with briefcases outside Joint Budget.
Green is more or less a cutout in this amendment for lottery overlord Robbie Wills, the House speaker. He says it's all about responsibility and clearing up the budgeting process and so on. Wills said he certainly supports the amendment, though he says Green came up with the idea on his own. He believes the legislature should have the same appropriation authority it has over, say, the Game and Fish Commission or Highway Commission. He raises the specter that an independent lottery commission could float a bond issue with lottery proceeds. He hints the bond daddies were behind the writing of Halter's amendment. Wills contends there's a structural problem in insuring that proceeds are directed to appropriate recipients. It is certainly outside the ordinary appropriation process and maybe Will's objection is only that of convention.
But I also think the new amendment is about giving a grabby legislature something the people didn't give them -- the power (which translates to campagn contributions, steak dinners, future jobs, etc.) over millions of dollars in hardware, software, marketing and advertising decisions, and with a supermajority vote requirement at that. This is the same legislature, remember, that didn't want to put a lottery on the ballot in the first place. Green was an opponent, now he wants to run it. You'll excuse me if I don't trust them now when they say they just have this little ol' technical amendment . But we'll see. It's another good reason to have the author of the amendment, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, in the room to discuss legislative questions.
Wills, Halter, Green address the controversy in Stephens Media coverage. Indeed, a law firm that does a lot of bond business helped draft the amendment. doo-doo-doo-doo
SPEAKING OF SECRETS: Blogger Jason Tolbert reports that he was not allowed to attend a closed-door meeting of Senate and House nabobs this afternoon to prepare a "floor-ready" lottery bill. I bet. A good question would be whether they'd allow a lowly, no-cloutlegislator from Bumfuzzle to attend. Bill Halter won't be there, that's for sure.