2/15/08

Arkansas AFL-CIO sees dues growth in gambling

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s campaign for a state lottery to fund college scholarships has picked up an endorsement from Arkansas’ largest labor organization. The executive board of the Arkansas AFL-CIO has decided by unanimous vote to support Halter’s proposed constitutional amendment to create a lottery, state AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes said Wednesday at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Union volunteers will help gather the nearly 78,000 signatures needed to place the proposal on the November ballot, Hughes said.

A lottery would give Arkansans who have been laid off an opportunity to further their education and ultimately find new jobs, the union leader said. Arkansans already are buying lottery tickets in other states, Hughes said, noting that he had a Texas lottery ticket in his wallet at the moment. He opened his wallet after a reporter asked to see the ticket.

“I’d rather see Arkansas in there,” he said.

Halter said he welcomed the endorsement.

“I just can’t tell you how pleased that I am that this, the largest representative of Arkansas working men and women, representing a diverse background of folks from all over the state of Arkansas, has taken this forward-looking step,” he said.

Answering a question, Halter said he has bought a lottery tickets in another state, but “it’s been years.”

Larry Page, director of the Arkansas Ethics and Faith Council, said Wednesday he did not believe the AFL-CIO’s endorsement would have much impact on how Arkansans vote if the proposal makes the ballot.

“I don’t mean to be dismissive of the AFL-CIO, but the rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO will do basically what I think in general Arkansans will do, and that is listen to the factual case against the lottery and decide, like Arkansans have decided so many times in the past, that it’s just not a good economic tool,” he said.

Page said he agrees with Halter that Arkansas — which ranks at or near the bottom among states in the percentage of college-educated adults — needs to send more people to college, but he said a lottery would result in working Arkansans having less disposable income and would be a drain on the economy.

“It’s the most regressive tax in use today,” he said.

Halter has said a lottery could raise as much as $100 million a year for scholarships. Page said he believes annual revenue would be between $35 and $50 million.

John Bailey, owner of Bailey Properties in Little Rock, pledged $300,000 to Halter’s lottery campaign, Hope for Arkansas, in October. Later that month, Halter announced that the campaign had hired the political consulting firm National Voter Outreach Inc. to help gather signatures.

The campaign will continue to use paid signature-gatherers as well as union volunteers, Halter said Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected so far, and the effort is on track to collect more than 78,000 signatures before the July 7 deadline, Halter said. He would not say exactly how many signatures have been collected.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved the wording of Halter’s measure in November. He later said he had “mixed feelings” about the proposal and feared it could open the door to slot machine-type games.

Halter has said he opposes those games and does not believe the Legislature would permit them.

(swtimes.com)

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