August 29, 2014

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – Earlier this spring, the Kentucky Lottery reached a major milestone when it marked a quarter-century since its first ticket was sold in the commonwealth.

This spring was also when the General Assembly lifted a little-known prohibition that had kept the lottery from advertising how the state’s proceeds are spent, even though it has generally been known that this money goes toward education.

While that limitation was outdated, it was initially included in part because the law’s authors were cautious about setting expectations too high on an untested program.

Not dedicating that money up front, however, led to lingering questions from the public, so in the late 1990s, the General Assembly rectified that by setting aside much of the state proceeds for three new programs.

Perhaps the most well-known of those is the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, or KEES, which helps cover the cost of in-state college tuition for students who earn good grades in high school. The other two are the College Access Program grant and the Kentucky Tuition Grant, both of which provide financial aid.

Although these three receive the lion’s share of the state’s lottery money, there are other initiatives that benefit as well. Some promote literacy and help students obtain their teaching certificate, for example, and in the past, affordable housing and a one-time bonus for Vietnam veterans were also funded.

Over the past 25 years, the lottery has returned about $4 billion to the state. For perspective, that’s about $1 billion less than the state will spend this year alone on elementary and secondary education.

In a given year, nearly two-thirds of all lottery money – which was about $859 million last fiscal year – is returned in winnings, and a little more than a fourth goes to the programs I just described. The remainder covers retailer commissions and operating costs.

Many may recall that lotteries were banned for much of Kentucky’s history until voters took that language out of the state’s constitution in 1988.

Initially, lotteries were widely used in our country’s early years. Even before Kentucky became a state, they helped to build and maintain churches, colleges, roads, and other projects. Although today’s big winners can instantly retire, the winners back then rarely if ever received a comparable amount.

Lotteries eventually fell out of favor because of widespread corruption, which is why most states banned them. New Hampshire began reversing that trend 50 years ago, and now all but seven states have one.

Last week represented a new era of sorts for ours with the premiere of the lottery’s first commercial taking advantage of the new law. While state spending of this money has never been a secret, advertisements like these should help end any doubts about how this money is used. From the beginning, and especially over the last 15 years, it has been a major reason why Kentucky has seen strong gains in college enrollment, the type of goal the lottery’s supporters had hoped for more than a quarter-century ago.

As always, if you would like to let me know your thoughts on this matter or any other affecting the state, you can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected]

To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer