(Opinion) Imagine if Alabama’s Democratic candidates for governor campaigned on a tax increase to be paid mostly by the poor.
Would they win?
Probably not, but that’s essentially what’s being proposed by former state Supreme Court chief justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.
They’re just labeling it an education lottery to make it sound more palatable.
Call it the Mary Poppins Ploy — “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
The basic idea behind the plans offered by Cobb and Maddox is that lottery ticket sales would magically fund all sorts of things for education — college scholarships, workforce development opportunities, statewide universal pre-K, assistance for underperforming schools, career tech at high schools, and filling the gap between federal Pell Grants and the actual cost of college tuition.
But as with all things magical, it’s an illusion.
Their smoke and mirrors are concealing this fact — poor families make up a disproportionate number of lottery players, and thus poor families would be a disproportionate part of Cobb and Maddox’s magical revenue-generating machine.
“Those in poverty or near poverty not only are more likely to play the lottery than those with greater means, they also spend a larger percent of their money on average on these games of chance,” wrote David R. Just, a behavioral economics professor at Cornell University, in a CNN opinion article. “We find there are jumps in lottery purchases when the poverty rate increases, when unemployment increases, or when people enroll on welfare.”
But it’s worse than just the poor being a disproportionate source of this new tax lottery.
Some of the revenues collected from the poor through lotteries earmarked for college scholarships actually disproportionally benefit children of middle and upper income earners.
Yes. Poor families would actually be paying for richer kids to go to college.
This is what tax reform looks like on Bizarro World.
We only need to look next door to Georgia for proof.
“Low and moderate income Georgians spent the most on the state’s lottery games, but see the fewest dollars come back to their counties in HOPE scholarships and grants, which are funded by lottery proceeds,” wrote Cedric D. Johnson in an analysis for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “Instead, counties with higher median income households receive the largest share of HOPE dollars.”
The reverse redistribution is real.
Johnson found that Georgians from counties with the lowest average incomes spent twice as much on lottery tickets than those in counties with the highest average income.
Moreover, the study showed that while middle-income counties provided 39-percent of lottery sales and received only 28-percent of scholarships, the highest income counties provided 46-percent of sales yet received 59-percent of the scholarships. That’s twice as many scholarships for only a 7-point difference in sales.
It’s undeniable. The poor and the middle class pay far more into Georgia’s education lottery scheme than their children get in return.
And it’s a safe bet that the same would happen in Alabama.
Imagine, poor families in Wilcox County buying lottery tickets to fund college tuition for rich kids in Shelby County.
Whether one supports gambling or not, it’s difficult to rationalize a revenue-collecting system that takes from the poor and gives to the children of the not-so-poor.
Or one that takes from the poor at all.