Scratch That: Lege Ends Lottery, Then Changes Mind

House avoids $2 billion school funding hole by saving scratch cards

No more lottery? House scuppers Powerball and $2.2 billion in education funding
No more lottery? House scuppers Powerball and $2.2 billion in education funding

It was supposed to be a prosaic procedural measure: the reauthorization of the Texas Lottery Commission. Yet, somehow, this morning the Texas House of Representatives voted against its continued existence, taking the agency, the lottery, and $2 billion in school finance with it. Then, less than four hours later, the House changed its mind.

Texas voters approved the lottery in 1991, in part because they all wanted to win the Powerball, and in part because its excess funds went to schools. This morning, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, presented the floor with House Bill 2197, revising the commission slightly (mostly on purchasing issues) and extending its life through 2025. And then a flood of conservative and freshman votes turned what should have been a non-event into a budget catastrophe. Lead by freshman Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, in a 65-81 record vote, the House rejected the bill, effectively dissolving the agency and ripping whatever funds it would contribute this time around (an estimated $2 billion) out of school finance.

The situation was such a flustercuck that an emergency one-hour notice to bring the bill back to the floor for reconsideration was quickly filed. Arms were twisted, and the 65-81 rejection became a 91-53 yes vote.

Quick lesson in Texas state agencies: Every decade or so, everybody goes through the Sunset process. That's a full review of what they do, how they do it, and whether it should keep going. It's effectively a big performance review, and it's usually a fairly harmless procedure. Once in a while, some tires take a severe kicking from the Legislature, like every time Texas Department of Transportation comes up for inspection. Occasionally an agency even gets dissolved, either because of gross malfeasance (like the Texas Youth Commission) or because it duplicates resources (like the Texas Israel Exchange Fund Board, whose main tasks went into the Department of Agriculture in 2009). However, just because the agency disappears, that doesn't mean their job goes. It just slides in somewhere else.

Not this time. If the vote had been allowed to stand, then no commission would have meant no one to run the lottery, so that means no lottery. It would also have meant no church bingo, because the commission regulates that, too. And, biggest of all, another gaping hole in school coffers.

Opponents this morning were calling the lottery a tax on poor people (nicely ignoring all the actual regressive taxes on poor people, like sales tax and property tax, that the GOP adores.) Cancelling the lottery would have left the various public education committees and the House and Senate budget conferees in one hell of a pickle. If the House hadn't reconsidered, they would have been forced to revise the state's contribution to school finance yet again.

Looking at the number of House Appropriations committee members, including Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and three other members of the budget conference committee, who voted for the bill this morning: Unlike the Tea Party wrecking crew, they probably understood that, when they already have a ruling from Judge John Dietz saying they chronically underfund public schools, this could officially have become a catastrophe.

Now it's just another instance of the House radical fringe right emerging with egg on its face.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate, Sunset Advisory Commission, 83rd Legislature, Texas Lottery Commission, State Budget, School Finance, Judge John Dietz, Rafael Anchia, Lottery, Scott Sanford

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