A Big Gamble

Will Arizona's tightfisted Legislature fund worthwhile programs if voters scratch the lottery?

By Dave Devine

WANNA BET $76 million if voters decide to end the lottery that the Arizona Legislature will replace the lost revenue with other tax money?

Some elected leaders say they will. Well, sort of say they will, at least.

In the publicity pamphlet for ballot propositions, Speaker of the House Jeff Groscost and other Republicans write: "Clearly, we can make up that money." But "can" and "will" aren't the same thing.

Currents In response, Christine Conte, director of communications for the Arizona chapter of the Nature Conservancy, points to the history of the Heritage Fund. Approved by an overwhelming majority of voters in 1990, the fund takes $20 million annually from lottery proceeds for environmental and quality-of-life projects.

"The Heritage Fund came into being using lottery funds because there was no other source of funding," says Conte, who doesn't see any alternatives to lottery money on the horizon.

Groscost led the effort to have voters decide whether the lottery should be continued for another four years instead of having the Legislature simply renew it. He and other lottery foes believe the government shouldn't be promoting gambling. They cite negative effects of gambling--broken homes and financial ruin.

Those who support the lottery ignore that moral argument. Instead, they concentrate on the good things the money has bought and point out that a majority of voters approved public gambling in the first place in 1980.

In the last fiscal year, $76.2 million in lottery funds were distributed statewide. Of this, $23 million went to local transportation programs, $21 million to the state's general fund and $20 million to Heritage Fund projects.

It's that last program which supporters often point to as a major reason to keep Arizona gambling. Since 1991, almost $5.5 million of Heritage Funds has been spent in Pima County. This includes $3 million used by the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, with an additional $700,000 possible shortly. Pima County has received over $800,000 in Heritage Fund dollars, which was used to improve four different recreational facilities.

More than $1 million in Heritage Fund dollars has paid for a long list of historic preservation efforts in the Tucson area. Pima County used another $275,000 on trail projects.

In addition, the city of Tucson gets $3 million annually in lottery funds, which it uses to help pay for the Sun Tran bus system. If this money disappears, fare increases or service cuts--or both--are distinct possibilities. Pima County's general fund also receives $250,000 of lottery money each year.

So what will it be? We certainly can't scratch and pick our way to prosperity. But are we willing to take the money and look the other way when it comes to the downside of government sponsored gambling? Or do we really think the State Legislature will "make up that money" which is lost if the lottery disappears? Place your bets.... TW

 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth