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By Zach Thomas
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 18, 1998

Lottery proposal would pay for Arizona high school students' tuition

PHOENIX - High school students statewide could get a big tuition break if they attend Arizona's universities and community colleges - assuming voters eventually approve a proposal pending in the state Legislature.

A House resolution, which passed out of the House Government Reform and State's Rights Committee yesterday, would restructure the state lottery so all proceeds go exclusively toward college scholarships.

"This would provide enough money to provide dollars for everyone in the state who wants to go to college," said Mike Williams, a lobbyist who supports the bill. "This would probably afford people an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have."

The bill, House Concurrent Resolution 2025, slid by the committee by a vote of 8-2 with one abstention.

It would put a referendum on a general election ballot to let voters decide whether to revamp the disbursement of lottery moneys.

Lottery proceeds, about 35 percent of the lottery's gross income, currently go into the state general fund and specific programs, said lottery spokeswoman Andrea Katsenes. One such program, Heritage Fund, supports environmental and natural resource initiatives, she said.

Under HCR 2025, the Heritage Fund and its counterparts would have to go directly to the Legislature for appropriations - a stipulation Heritage Fund proponents say would essentially kill the program.

"The Heritage Fund itself has withstood attacks here at the Legislature for the past five or six years since it was passed," said Jim Walsh of the Arizona Heritage Alliance.

"I can almost guarantee that Heritage fund programs will not be appropriated."

Lottery revenues, however, could stand to gain under the plan, said bill sponsor Rep. Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix.

The lottery, which poured $80 million into state coffers last year, depreciated since the inception of other Arizona contests like PowerBall.

"I don't play the lottery often because I'm more likely to get struck twice by lightning than win," Weiers said.

"I do buy the raffle tickets from the Boy Scouts and support the bazaar charity auctions" because they go to a good cause, Weiers said, likening it to the pending lottery proposal "because people will feel good when they lose."

Other states that have similar scholarships tied to lottery proceeds, like Georgia and New Mexico, have reported profit increases, Katsenes said.

If approved, the measure also calls for a new Lottery Scholarship Committee to watch over the program and make sure it stays profitable.

Lawmakers questioned Williams extensively about how the committee would cope with an influx of students or a decrease in lottery revenues under the plan.

"If there wasn't enough money, this commission could set up requirements based on need," Williams said. "Right now, the priorities are that people who want to attend college can."

Although there would be no grade point average requirement for the high school applicants, recipients would have to maintain a 3.0 GPA in college to keep the money flowing.

Rep. Lou-Ann Preble, R-Tucson, took issue with the lack of grade requirements.

"These are scholarships. These are what you earn," Preble said. "This is not an entitlement."

A student representative among 25 visiting the Legislature from Phoenix's Apollo High School countered that assertion.

"We felt that we should give everyone an opportunity," said a student who identified herself only as Bethany.

Rep. Paul Newman, D-Bisbee, spoke directly to the watching high school students, before he voted against the measure.

"I want the students in the audience to understand that this is a very complex issue," Newman said. "While your goal is very noble, it may not be the most noble goal in light of other causes."

One proposal pending in the Legislature would use lottery funds for children's health care and another would kill the lottery entirely.

It is uncertain whether the resolution has the support to pass a full House vote.

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