Monday, September 16, 2013

How the lottery was a boon to Georgia Baptists



Here in Georgia, we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of our state-sponsored lottery.

I use “we” loosely because your humble hacker and plodder blogger isn’t celebrating, but most everyone else is. My residence was in South Carolina in 1993 but as a native Georgian, I was aware of the lottery proposal and subsequent approval back then and watched from across the Savannah River as the strong opposition of Georgia Baptists was insufficient to kill it. It passed amid all manner of dire predictions by opponents. It has been wildly successful.

I have never purchased a lottery ticket, not a single one, but I have been in line in convenience stores behind literally hundreds who have and do buy them.

Georgia’s lottery was approved by citizens because the proceeds were to go to fund college scholarships for students with over 1.5 million Georgians being helped with their college education through the lottery. Among that figure are my own children. I never paid a single penny in college tuition or fees for my kids. All of it was paid by the HOPE lottery-funded scholarship and other scholarships. [As an aside, I know of exactly one and only one person in these twenty years who eschewed the lottery scholarship and paid tuition out of his own pocket.]

Which gets me to the matter of the lottery being a boon to Georgia Baptists and Georgia Baptist churches.

Although the HOPE scholarship was originally means tested, after the first few years when lottery sales were far beyond expectations and money was abundant, the original family income cap of $66,000 was raised to $100,000 and then eliminated altogether. There is no means test today for the HOPE Scholarship.

With no means test, those affluent families who planned to pay for a college education for their kids suddenly had a sum of money, quite a considerable sum of money, available for other uses. Studies showed an increase in luxury car sales in affluent Georgia counties after HOPE’s income cap was removed. Families took the money planned for college tuition and bought expensive vehicles with it. In Athens, my home and home of the state’s largest university, the University of Georgia, there was an explosion in the building of student-oriented condominiums and conversion of apartments to condos, as parents invested in real estate for their children to live in while in college (and, when the real estate meltdown came in 2008, many of  these lost considerable sums as inflated condo prices crashed and buyers could not be found).

What a great country! The state sponsors a gambling enterprise, something they monopolize by making such criminal for all others, which is funded proportionately greater by poor citizens who spend more of their income on lottery tickets than their wealthier fellow citizens. The more affluent Georgians then take the free tuition and buy new cars and houses with the enormous pool of money set aside for their kid’s education that is now available for discretionary spending.

Some of that pool of money, into the billions of dollars over twenty years, has and will go to Georgia Baptist churches in the form of donations. Astute readers will notice that I offer no concrete proof of  this. It has not been specifically targeted for study but I think it to be a safe conclusion.  

Here’s something I am not reading or hearing these days: any call by Georgia Baptists to do away with the lottery or even to make the adjustments to it to remove or ameliorate it as a state-sponsored wealth transfer program whereby our poorer citizens pay for the college education of our more wealthy citizens.

Happy 20th birthday, Georgia Lottery. You have ingrained yourself into the fabric of our culture and, since middle class and upper class Georgians are accustomed to the financial benefit, you will live to be 100 and more.

You will not hear Georgia Baptist pastors fighting this segment of the culture wars. We benefit too much from it.


10 comments:

Tom Parker said...

Wow! I guess people's convictions will only take them so far in their actions.

William Thornton said...

Politically, Tom, the lottery is securely entrenched and most of us recognize that it is futile to make any movement to eliminate it; however, I would regularly preach against gambling and buying lottery tickets.

Seems to me that a moral position would be to means test the benefits so that the program is not a wealth transfer from poor to more affluent Georgians.

Anonymous said...

In Texas the Democrat governor at the time (Ann Richards) told us that if we passed the lottery that all the money would go to education.

Turns out that it was a huge lie and it didn't do a thing to help education.

Beware of the promises of politicians--and especially Democrats!

Ed T. said...

I imagine you are right, William. I doubt it will ever go away. Our Tennessee lottery was based largely, if not almost entirely, on the Georgia model.

While it is not so generous that one can normally not have to find other funds (it pays about 1/2 the tuition for a 2 semester year at the Univ of Memphis), I think it's ingrained as "free money" or an entitlement now.

I don't think I've ever heard of any preacher in TN calling for its abolition, although that has probably happened...it's just not widespread. Even if they did, I think a large number of Christians would vote to keep it in the privacy of the voting booth. Gambling just doesn't have the "stain of sin" that it used to have.

My SBC pastor brother and I have had conversations in the past about whether Christians should accept the HOPE given the manner in which it was funded (largely on the money of the poor). My former (very prominent) pastor, from what I understand only through second-hand information, took a neutral stance on that issue even though he strongly opposed the lottery when it was proposed.

I would vote to do away with it if given the chance even though I would stand (at least within the next 4-6 years) to "lose" money; however, I think there is a slim to none chance of any major push to repeal it.

I don't know what the experience is in Georgia, but here in Tennessee those "poor" who were usually promoted to the beneficiaries of this thing are usually losing it after the first year or so because they can't maintain the grades to keep it...and of course they've lowered the expectations of academic performance at least once in order to allow them to keep the scholarship.

In the end, I agree with you that the thing has largely become a way for the "poor" to finance the college education of middle-class and above students who choose to go to an in-state college.

I am sure there ARE some poor students who have made good use of the HOPE and have gone to college due to it when they otherwise might have had no other way, but I think if were to compare the promises that the proponents made in selling it to the actual results, we'd have to put it in the FAIL column.

Ed T. said...

In regards to the poor retaining the HOPE, maybe I should rephrase and say they are all too often losing it due to poor academic performance and not "usually losing it".

Either way, it is a recurring problem that a significant number of students can't hold onto it.

Tom Parker said...

William:

My point is if a Christian in Georgia is against the lottery, how do they take the benefits that this lottery makes available.

That seems hypocritical to me. Just say'in.

Anonymous said...

Since HOPE can be used for public or private institutions, lottery funded HOPE scholarships have certainly been a boon to GA Baptist colleges.

dr. james wllingham said...

I am afraid that our ethical considerations are as weak and knock-kneed as our theology. When the theological convictions are sound, the ethical considerations will be sound.

Barry Dollar said...

I just wanted to introduce you to a second person that has not taken lottery money to pay for college. My daughter and I are still paying and will be for some years to come.

The reality you share saddens me. I actually feel foolish to know the battle I thought was being fought was actually surrendered a long time ago and I've been standing alone.

We have a senior this year and have been wringing our hands over how we would pay for his college. Thanks for the enlightenment. I'm relived to know it is now acceptable and even beneficial to take lottery money.

Seriously, I continue to struggle over this issue and still can't find the justification to take the money, other than, "Everybody is doing it, so it must be O.K."

William Thornton said...

Let each one make his or her own decision. If the merit based scholarship funded by lottery revenues is objectionable to you. Refuse it. I will not criticize your for your decision.

BTW, the only other person I know who refused the HOPE later used it to pay for a younger child when he was ready for college.