Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sen. Obenshain wants Lottery Trust Fund

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has introduced legislation to establish a Lottery Trust Fund to stop what he calls the state’s “shell game” with money intended for education, according to Jeff Mellott at the Harrisonburg Daily News Record.

Because lottery proceeds, intended for education, are put in the general fund, Sen. Obenshain wants to see those monies set apart to be used for K-12 programs in Virginia public schools.
[Obenshain] said ... the state never created the trust fund and placed the money in the general fund in violation of the Virginia Constitution. Still, in spite of the constitutional questions, Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said the state has lived up to supporting education.

Obenshain introduced Senate Bill 800 to create the fund.

“It’s going to be a fix to what is increasingly being viewed as a significant legal problem that we have with the budget,” Obenshain said Thursday.

“It’s a fix. It’s there. It’s ready for us to adopt,” he said.

The Senate adjourned Friday without taking action on the bill.

Without the creation of the constitutionally required fund, Obenshain said any budget approved by the General Assembly might be considered invalid.

It would take a court test to determine the validity of the budget, he said.

“I would think the voters and taxpayers would demand [a court test] if the General Assembly would deliberately thumb its nose at the requirements of the constitution,” Obenshain said.

Obenshain’s bill requires that net lottery revenues be transferred on a biweekly basis to the Lottery Proceeds Fund for payment to counties, cities, towns and school divisions.

The bill stipulates that the money in the fund is not to be “commingled with any other fund or asset.” The bill needs the approval of the Senate, the House of Delegates and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Obenshain introduced the bill on Tuesday after Attorney General Bob McDonnell handed down an opinion that said the constitution, based on a change in 2000, mandates the creation of the Lottery Proceeds Fund for distributing the money to localities with school systems.

“This is not being done,” Obenshain said in a statement issued Tuesday, “and there is now a proposed budget that would funnel over $80 million away from education over the next two years. That is wrong.”

According to Obenshain, a lawyer from the state’s Division of Legislative Services raised the question whether Virginia lawmakers were violating the law by directing the money into the general fund before it were distributed.

The issue came up recently when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican and president of the Senate, unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the Senate, controlled by Democrats, from approving a budget that rerouted lottery funds. Bolling argued that rerouting the funds requires a four-fifths vote.

When state lawyers ruled that a four-fifths vote wasn’t necessary, Obenshain said, Republicans went to the attorney general for his opinion on what the constitution required.

Budgets containing the lottery money, Hanger said, have passed with huge majorities in the past.
And, even without the Lottery Proceeds Fund, Virginia has supported education.

“The intent and spirit of the law is honored,” Hanger said, even if the money passes through the state’s general fund.
The Virginia lottery was started in 1988. After 20 years it is time to properly set up the education trust fund to ensure lottery proceeds go where they were originally intended.

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