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Bridges, roads may drive vote for lottery

It looks more likely than ever that Mississippi will get in the lottery business.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday he’s ready to accept most of the House leadership’s proposals on road funding. That includes moving some taxes on internet sales to cities and counties. He’s also ready to use money from sports betting and creating a state lottery to increase spending on the state Department of Transportation, The Associated Press reported.

If Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant are in favor, and both appear to be, there’s a good chance Mississippians will soon be trying their luck close to home instead of driving across the state line.

Local lawmakers are divided on the lottery issue, which isn’t a surprise. Lawmakers have tried for almost 20 years to pass a bill creating a lottery. No matter the year, or the party, legislators have a hard time agreeing on the matter.

“If it comes up, I am going to vote for it because it’s already been voted on by the people,” said District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven. “I most definitely don’t want to not do the will of the people. I’ve gotten a few emails against it, but hundreds for it.”

Mississippi voters in 1992 approved an amendment to the state’s constitution legalizing a lottery.

“I have a lot of questions about the lottery,” said District 39 Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven. “I would like to see more specifics on any proposal before I could vote for it. Is it just going to be a change in our taxes? Is someone going to come in and buy a lottery ticket as opposed to a Coke and a bag of chips? Is it just going to be a wash?”

District 53 Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, said he would vote against the lottery.

“The casino revenue was supposed to save education, but that hasn’t worked. There’s not enough answers with this lottery,” he said. “The number I keep hearing thrown around is $80 million, but when you’re looking at a $6 billion budget, $80 million is just a drop in the bucket. Every little bit helps, but I would not hook my wagon to the lottery to save the day.”

What’s different this time, compared to other years when lottery bills failed, is that more than 400 bridges across the state are closed and infrastructure needs are outpacing the state’s piggy bank. A lottery might help, but a surer bet would be increasing the fuel tax to fund road and bridge work.