Columns » John Brummett

Halter 2, Legislature 1



The score stands as follows: Lt. Gov. Bill Halter 2, state legislature 1.

That's on who's right and who's wrong in this lottery implementation controversy. But if you're interested not in who's right and wrong, but only in which side will have its way, be advised that the legislature will win in a shutout.

That's because the legislature appropriates money and holds the constitutional authority to build this lottery. The lieutenant governor, by our state Constitution, doesn't do diddly except preside over the state Senate, which is procedural, perfunctory and pointless.

Our lieutenant governor's office is a waste of perfectly good closet space.

It is to Halter's everlasting credit that he's made something of this irrelevance by getting this lottery passed for college scholarships. But that, in turn, has made him seem presumptuous and headline-seeking, which, in turn, has engendered resentment from legislators.

Here's how that cycle works: Halter calls a news conference to reveal a poll he commissioned that so happens to find that the public agrees with him and not legislators on key lottery differences. Legislators, whose culture is so insular as to be clubbish, roll their eyes about the pitiable spectacle of a guy trying to conduct a public policy debate by self-assigned polling and news conferences.

So here's how to score it 2-to-1 for Halter:

1. Halter is right that we should use lottery proceeds to create a new, consolidated, simple and Georgia-modeled college scholarship. His vision is sound, meaning one by which we could go to every child in the sixth grade and make the following solemn and treasured compact, both with the youngster and his parents: “If you maintain a 2.5 grade point average through your senior year, you will be guaranteed a college scholarship that pays all your essential academic costs and that you will then be permitted to keep throughout four years of college as long as you maintain that 2.5 grade point average.”

Halter is right that the legislature is perpetuating a sub-par status quo by insisting on maintaining existing scholarships and offering initial aid amounts that won't be enough to cover basic costs.

2. But, and this plainly contradicts the first, Halter is wrong when he says we should expect a hundred-million dollars a year from this lottery and proceed ambitiously and accordingly.

He is right in the principle that one who aims high and misses is still more apt to hit a higher target than one who aims low and bull's-eyes the target. But that's more a personal and business model than a government one. Government, at least at the state level, must practice fiscal prudence lest it build up hopes it cannot meet.

It may be that the lottery will produce a hundred-million dollars. But legislators are right not to offer it to students until they see it.

3. Halter is right when he says he has been wrongfully excluded from the lottery conversation by the legislature. This is less a problem of hurt feelings than that he, as a competent and accomplished man who got this lottery on the ballot and passed it, could provide valuable and voter-approved input to the discussion about how we might reconcile Nos. 1 and 2.

House Speaker Robbie Wills says that Halter has indeed been included, but the record is entirely to the contrary. Wills has overseen a process by which lottery legislation has been drafted by a few insider legislators meeting privately. They retreated to Petit Jean the other night, but Halter was not there.

Halter looked up the other day to see a proposed constitutional amendment filed by the House leadership. It merely would undo his amendment's protection of lottery proceeds in a special trust outside the treasury — a lock-box, if you please.

Instead this new amendment, if referred to the voters and adopted, would subject lottery money to the normal treasury and the normal legislative appropriation process.

Whether that's a good idea or bad is a matter worthy of debate. That Halter was due some consideration, some input, some courtesy, a heads-up instead of getting blind-sided — that's not debatable at all.

Legislators aren't treating Halter properly, and it's rather petty. And we may miss a chance to let our lottery be all that it might be for a new higher-education ethic in the state.

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