The Arkansas Lottery Commission met this morning and discussed a packed agenda including a financial report from director Ernie Passailaigue, a report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education on the demographic breakdown of scholarship recipients and how to address the still-lingering issue of how to deal with exempt employees who took compensatory time misguidedly offered by lottery officials. For brevity's sake: Passailaigue was optimistic about sales figures as always, higher education has given out over $40 million in scholarships to over 30,400 recipients and compensatory time was capped at 80 hours. Employees who have already taken more than 80 hours will be forgiven. For a more detailed account, check out the jump.
Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue told lottery commissioners that the games were bringing in an average of $8 million per week and around $35 million per month. Those figures are similar to lotteries in Tennessee and South Carolina. Instant tickets continue to be a cash cow for the lottery, however Passailaigue said games like the Arkansas Raffle have not performed as well as expected. He said the commission would work to create incentives for retailers to help boost sales.
Representatives from the Department of Higher Education were on hand to discuss their progress in doling out scholarship funds for the fall semester. Tara Smith, director of financial aid for the agency, and department Director Jim Purcell told the commissioners that all awards for the fall semester had been made. Over 30,400 students received scholarships totaling approximately $40 million. Purcell also presented a report detailing the demographic breakdown of the recipients. Overall, 42 percent of the scholarships went to traditional students (those entering college directly after high school graduation), 17 percent went to students who were already enrolled in the Arkansas Academic Challenge Program from previous years, 20 percent went to non-traditional students and 20.3 percent went to current achievers, or those who are currently enrolled in school and meet the scholarship requirements.
Demographically, 71.8 percent of recipients were White, 12 percent Black, 3.6 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and 1.1 percent American Indian. Purcell said the state's population was roughly 80 percent white and 15.8 percent African-American.
Purcell was asked by one commissioner if any changes in eligibility were on the horizon. Purcell said that just about every legislator had their own thoughts on the matter and any changes would have to go before the legislature in the next session.
The main sticking point of the whole meeting was how to handle exempt employees who had taken compensatory time that was offered to them, misguidedly, by lottery officials. At a commission meeting on September 30, Passailaigue and two aides, David Barden and Ernestine Middleton, agreed to waive all claims to any accrued comp time and repay the state for comp time they had already drawn by giving up offsetting leave or vacation time or making a payment if necessary. At issue today were three lower-level employees who had accrued comp time and whether that time should be capped or taken away.
Commissioner George Hammons, who sits on the lottery's personnel committee, said in order to bring this issue to a close, the commission should place a cap on compensatory time, for those who have not yet claimed it, of 80 hours. To the extent that employees exceeded that amount, Hammons said the commission would have to decide whether those employees should reimburse the commission or if those hours should be forgiven.
Commissioner Ben Pickard noted that neither the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission nor the Highway and Transportation Department gave compensatory time to exempt employees. Commissioner Joe White asked the commission, "Are we going to be the only agency to grant comp time to exempt employees?" Staff attorney Bishop Woosley said he was not sure and the lottery would have to file and FOI request with every state agency to find out. White said he could not vote to extend compensatory time to lottery employees without that kind of information.
Other commissioners said they were conflicted over the issue. On the one hand, they did not want to unfairly grant compensatory time to employees. On the other, they did not want to take that time away from said employees if they had been promised by their superiors that they would receive it. Ultimately, the commission voted 5-4 to place an 80 hour cap on compensatory time. For those employees that had already taken more than 80 hours, they would not have to reimburse the commission for that time.