Lawmakers are asking Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker to weigh in on the legality of the governor's plan to use lottery money to pay for additional scholarships and grants now funded by taxpayers.
In a letter to Baker obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), question the move.
"We are asking whether the replacement of state funds with lottery funds ... is constitutional," the letter says.
The letter asks for an expedited opinion since the House is expected to take up the mid-year, fiscal 2010 budget in the next few weeks.
Bert Brantley, the governor's spokesman, said Perdue's staff reviewed previous AG opinions and concluded his plan was legal.
"We wouldn't put it in the budget if we didn't think it was constitutional and if we didn't think it was the best policy for the state," Brantley said.
Perdue is proposing to pay for about $33 million in taxpayer-funded scholarships and grants this year with lottery funds. The move would increase costs for lottery-funded programs at a time when the cost of HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten classes is already expected to exceed lottery revenues. The state will have to dip into lottery reserves to cover program expenses.
Depending on how deeply it must dip into reserves, the state may have to begin cutting benefits to HOPE scholars to ensure the program's survival.
The move helps Perdue balance the state budget by using lottery reserves rather than tax money. Administration officials say the scholarship and grant programs might have to be eliminated if lottery funding is not used to keep them afloat.
Harbin has already come out against the move, and Democratic lawmakers say attorneys are ready to sue the state if the General Assembly goes along with the plan.
The constitutional amendment that created the lottery in 1992 states that lottery funds can't "supplant" funding for existing education programs. Many of the programs Perdue wants to shift to lottery funding existed before the lottery.
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