Push made for Florida Lottery to share proceeds with veterans groups

Florida Lottery has contributed $32B to state's education system since 1988

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Twenty-eight cents of every dollar spent on the Florida Lottery goes to education -- more than $1 billion each year. Veterans groups are now looking to tap into the fund by creating a specific lottery game that will share its proceeds with veterans organizations.

The Florida Lottery has contributed more than $32 billion to the state’s education system since its inception in 1988. The state Constitution puts the proceeds in the State Education Enhancement Trust Fund, but there is a push to open some of the money up to veterans groups.

“With everyone returning from the global war on terror, 1.7 million veterans in the state of Florida and federal funding is sometimes lagging behind the need," said William Helmich, a lobbyist for the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) and the American Legion. 

At least four states share lottery proceeds with veterans organizations, but to make it happen in Florida, there would have to be a change to the state’s Constitution or the Legislature would brave the wrath of educators to send the money elsewhere.

The idea right now is to copy states, like Illinois and Texas, that have designated games for veterans. If a constitutional amendment were passed, the Legislature would still have the final say in how the idea would work in Florida.

“It can be a scratch-off, it can be a separate pool, it's however the lottery wants to do it. And then the money, as the language is written, would be up to the Legislature on how to disperse it," Helmich said. 

Veterans activists do have one request: That the money go to congressionally chartered veterans services like the VFW and the American Legion.

The move comes as Florida lawmakers are proposing expanding Bright Futures Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery.

Frank Mirabella, with the campaign to authorize the Florida Lottery, helped push the original constitutional amendment establishing the Florida Lottery in 1986. He says the lottery should keep its intended purpose.

“There's lots of kids that can't go to college. If they took those funds away from education, many more kids would not go to college," Mirabella said. 

Veterans activists said they don’t believe education would lose out. Instead, they believe the new game would only result in more overall lottery tickets being sold.

So far, there are no official proposals for the Constitutional Revision Commission to review or bills filed for the lottery change. Historically, Gov. Rick Scott has touted Florida as the most veteran-friendly state in the country.

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