Final action taken on lottery resolution

Tuesday, April 22nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An election to determine whether Oklahoma should have a state-run lottery will be held on Nov. 2, 2004, Gov. Brad Henry said.

Creation of a lottery has been the centerpiece of Henry's plan to bring more money to financially strapped public schools.

The Oklahoma House and Senate narrowly agreed to send the issue to voters and Henry had indicated it could be on a special election ballot as soon as this September.

But he decided to delay the vote to ensure the lottery measure is accompanied by a constitutional amendment requiring that lottery revenue is dedicated to public education.

Legislators agreed to put this companion piece on the ballot, but they failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required to put a constitutional amendment before voters in a special election.

The soonest voters could decide on the so-called education lockbox was Nov. 2, 2004, the next general election. Henry said Monday that he wants voters to decide simultaneously on creation of a lottery and a constitution guarantee that its money will go to education.

Henry's plans to bring both measures before voters this summer changed last week when the House failed to get a two-thirds vote on the special election feature to the constitutional amendment. The Senate agreed Monday, 28-17, to put the constitutional amendment on ballot.

Sixty-eight votes were required in the House to allow Henry to call a special election, but only 61 House members voted for it. Thirty-seven of the 39 ``no'' votes were cast by Republicans, who had earlier opposed the bill creating a lottery.

``I'm disappointed that we won't get to vote on the education lottery this year, but we were left with no other choice after the special election feature in Senate Joint Resolution 22 was defeated,'' said Henry, a first-year Democratic governor who made a lottery the focal point of his 2002 campaign.

``As I have said many times, because the constitutional protection in SJR 22 is such an important component of the education lottery, I believe it must be on the same ballot as the companion proposal,'' he continued. ``That is the package I promised the people of Oklahoma.

``Common sense dictates that both questions should be on the same ballot so that voters can make a fully informed decision on this important issue. The only available date for such a vote is November of 2004.''

In the Senate, 16 of the 17 ``no'' votes on the constitutional amendment were cast by Republicans.

Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, urged senators to reject the plan because he said House amendments removed minimum percentages of lottery proceeds that would be earmarked to education after deducting the cost of prizes and administration.

Sen. Angela Monson, D-Oklahoma City, said removing the percentages would give the commission that will run the lottery more flexibility that could result in more dollars going toward educational purposes.

Monson maintained the proposal still provided a ``lockbox'' to ensure that lottery proceeds could not be diverted to other areas than education.

Henry said although he would have preferred a lottery election this year, ``there are some positives to a November vote. For example, because 2004 is a presidential election year, more people will go to the polls to make their voices heard on the education lottery.

``I've always felt that democracy functions better when more people get involved. Further, a November vote will save taxpayers money because the state won't finance a special election.

``Of course, the most important thing is not when voters will get to decide the education lottery, but the fact that they will get to decide it.''