On the afternoon of February 10, 2018, something remarkable happened in the New Mexico House: the bill that was introduced to benefit the lottery’s special interest vendors was transformed into a bill that puts students first.
House Bill 147 was originally introduced to repeal the requirement that the lottery deliver at least 30% of revenues to the scholarship fund. It reached the House floor on an 8-6 “no recommendation” vote after twice failing to pass the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Think New Mexico opposed the bill as it was originally introduced.
Anticipating that the bill would make it to a vote of the full House, Think New Mexico drafted three amendments to protect the interests of students. Thanks to leadership from legislators across the political spectrum, all three amendments were successfully added to the bill. You can read an excellent overview of what happened by the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell.
First, Representative Jason Harper (R-Rio Rancho) passed an amendment that caps the lottery’s annual operating costs at 15%. This is the average amount the lottery has spent on operating costs, including its contracts with multinational gaming corporations, for the past decade. However, before the lottery was required to deliver at least 30% to scholarships, it spent upwards of 20% on its operating costs. This amendment makes sure that won’t happen again.
Then, Representative Matt McQueen (D-Santa Fe) passed an amendment to increase the annual guarantee for students from $38 million to $40 million a year. The scholarship fund has received at least $40 million a year in nine of the last ten years.
Finally, Representative Alonzo Baldonado (R-Los Lunas) passed an amendment requiring that any unclaimed prizes must go to the scholarship fund in addition to the $40 million floor. Unclaimed prizes average $1-3 million a year.
Thanks to these amendments, students will be guaranteed $40 million a year, plus $1-3 million in unclaimed prizes, and if the lottery ever fails to deliver that amount, the 30% law automatically returns. In addition, lottery operating costs are capped at the current level so that any growth in the lottery will go to students, not gaming companies.
We are now urging the Senate to pass the bill in its amended form. The lottery may ask the Senate to strip out the amendments that protect students and go back to a bill that benefits their vendors – we’re working to prevent that from happening.
Our bottom line has consistently been that any changes to the lottery must put the interests of students first, since the purpose of the lottery is to maximize revenues for scholarships. We are very pleased that House Bill 147 now passes that test.