Senate Bill 286, which would send forfeited lottery prizes to the scholarship fund, will advance to the Senate after the Senate Finance Committee approved the bill. And Senate Bill 355, approved with a 25-16 vote, would allow debit cards to be used to purchase lottery tickets. Supporters of SB 355 said it could increase lottery ticket sales and lead to larger prize amounts, which would in turn boost funding to the scholarship in the long run.
However, the bill would also eliminate the requirement that at least 30 percent of lottery revenue be dedicated to the scholarship fund.
The 30 percent stipulation originally arose from a proposal made by Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think tank, and resulted in an additional $9 million per year going toward the fund, said Kristina Fisher, the organization’s associate director.
The bill will advance to the House of Representatives before going to the Governor’s desk.
“If it does work out, it’s only going to be for the benefit of the Lottery (Scholarship),” New Mexico Sen. Bill Payne (R-Bernalillo county) said in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal. “I think we certainly need to give it a try, because we’ve got nothing to lose at this point in the game.”
The bill contains a last-minute provision requiring that the minimum amount given to the scholarship fund must always be equal to the total amount given in 2015. The provision was meant to appease critics of the removal of the 30 percent minimum, but opponents of the bill said there is now no incentive for lottery management to ever give anything more than that amount.
“There is no incentive for the lottery to deliver one penny more than that 2015 amount,” Fisher said. “So even if the lottery grows and more people buy tickets and the revenues go up, there’s no incentive for anyone to give the students another dollar. We think the lottery scholarship will get frozen at the 2015 amount going forward.”
Almost 70 percent of students at research universities across the state received aid from the Lottery Scholarship during the 2012-13 year, according to an Associated Students of UNM resolution.
“(The New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice) is opposed to this bill along with numerous students across the state,” said Virginia Necochea, a UNM graduate student and member of the Coalition. “It leaves everything in limbo. I don’t see it as beneficial to students.”
Lottery CEO David Barden said that one of the Lottery’s contracts with an out-of-state vendor is coming up for renewal, and that the new contract will increase costs to the Lottery from $4 million to about $6 million.
The out-of-state companies contracted with the Lottery usually do printing and advertising and run some of the games, Fisher said.
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Fisher said that instead of increasing the size of their contracts, the Lottery should be spending that money on students.
“We see the lottery as a zero-sum game: Every dollar that’s going to these out-of-state vendors is not going into scholarships,” she said.
Before the bill becomes law, it still must be voted on in the House of Representatives and approved by Governor Martinez. Fisher said she hopes the House will listen to the concerns of the people most affected by the bill: the students.
“The Representatives and the Governor need to hear from students saying we need that 30 percent to make sure students are actually going to benefit from the lottery, and that the lottery is fulfilling its purpose of maximizing dollars to scholarships,” Fisher said. “One of our concerns is that students’ voices are not being heard in the Roundhouse right now, and so anything they can do would be hugely helpful.”
House Memorial 93, a directive that approves a study into the feasibility of year-round lottery scholarships, was approved by the House Education Committee. Support came from institutions that said such an increase would speed up time to graduation, according to UNM.
Marielle Dent is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Marielle_Dent.