The Texas House unexpectedly voted to kill the Texas Lottery Commission on Tuesday, but after a short break and some introspection, the members came back with a change of heart.
Mainstream Republicans and tea party-backed conservatives sought to gain favor with the right wing of the GOP by voting against the unpopular lottery commission. Some thought they could appease anti-lottery constituents — who see the lottery as a form of gambling that takes advantage of the poor — with protest votes against the commission.
But as it turned out, there were enough nays for the House to reject House Bill 2197, the “sunset” bill that must pass to continue the commission’s operations. That initial vote was 65-81.
Immediately after the vote, some members pondered the implications, particularly the billions of dollars that would be lost for public education funding in Texas.
House leaders abruptly called for a late lunch break, and, after they came back, members instead approved the bill 91-53. There was no discussion.
On the reconsidered vote, the bill’s author, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said members were faced with either changing the vote on the bill or being forced to choose between the unsavory options of raising taxes or making more cuts to public education.
“This is really a bigger discussion of how we fund public ed,” he said.
Before they returned for the legislative mulligan, Republican Rep. Scott Sanford of McKinney told the House he was opposing the bill on “the moral grounds that the lottery is a tax on poor people.”
“It is therefore immoral and wrong,” Sanford said, noting that state residents without high school degrees tend to spend $600 annually on the lottery while those with graduate school-level educations spend about a fourth of that.
On the other side of the issue, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and other Democrats expressed worry about abolishing the commission. Turner asked from the floor if the “no” vote translated to a deduction of $2.2 billion in lottery money for public education.
From the speaker’s desk, state Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, said that if the lottery commission went away, the revenue for schools would disappear unless lawmakers could find the money elsewhere in the budget.
The initial vote also would have meant an end to charitable bingo operations in the state, including such games at churches and veterans’ halls — a consequence that many members seemed to overlook.
State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, who voted in favor of keeping the commission, said many House members might not have thought their votes all the way through.
“They didn’t know how much it touched,” Kuempel said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if all the buses headed to bingo halls were diverted to Austin in opposition.”
Anchia said an unexpected “philosophical aversion” to the lottery emerged with the initial vote.
“I didn’t perceive this bill being a referendum on the lottery,” he said. But “it certainly materialized that way.”
Some members in both parties always have equated the lottery with gambling and opposed it.
“It exploits the poor,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth, one of the few Democrats to initially vote against the bill. Burnam switched votes because education is too dependent on the lottery money, he said.
Austin Democrats — including Reps. Mark Strama, Donna Howard, Eddie Rodriguez and Dawnna Dukes — voted to maintain the lottery in both votes.
Republican Reps. Paul Workman of Austin, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, Tony Dale of Cedar Park and Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington all voted “nay” initially. But only Workman voted the same way the second time.
Gonzales didn’t explain his flip-flop. “There’s a lot at play,” he said, without elaborating.
Dale said he switched because there would be “too big of a budget gap to fill.” Dale said he didn’t realize how much was at stake because the fiscal note attached to the bill that explains its budgetary impact didn’t outline the losses in revenue.
“I had more information,” he said after the second vote.
Switched votes don’t necessarily equate to a change of mind on the institution of the lottery, Dale said.
Asked if he was surprised by the vote and then the reversal, House Speaker Joe Straus said, “The surprise is that something like this hasn’t happened before now.”
“Members express their will, and sometimes the consequences are discovered later,” said Straus, who wasn’t on the floor during debate. “This is not unusual.”
The legislation faces another vote in the House before it is sent to the Senate for consideration.