Senate rejects governor's HOPE bill; GOP to try again

ATLANTA - Senate Democrats on Thursday turned back Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to limit how state lottery revenues are spent after majority Republicans refused to consider an alternative put forth by the minority party.

A constitutional amendment introduced on behalf of the Republican governor garnered votes from 35 of the 56 senators, all 34 GOP senators and one Democrat. But with 20 Democrats voting "no,'' the measure failed to attain the two-thirds majority necessary to approve changes to Georgia's Constitution.

Perdue's legislation would prohibit spending revenue the state receives from the Georgia Lottery on anything but HOPE scholarships - the prime reason the lottery was created - and the state's pre-kindergarten program.

While Perdue has managed to save the lottery money for the two programs during the past three years, about $1.8 billion in lottery proceeds was spent on other education-related projects between the lottery's inception in 1994 and 2003, said Sen. Joseph Carter, R-Tifton, who presented the bill on the Senate floor.

"This will stop the history of spending unrelated to HOPE and Pre-K,'' he said.

Democrats defended that previous spending, which took place during the terms of former Democratic Govs. Roy Barnes and Zell Miller, as projects that were needed at the time, including technology improvements and campus construction.

But Democrats' most serious objections were focused on a procedural motion adopted by Republicans to "engross'' the governor's bill, which prohibited any changes from being debated or voted upon.

That move prevented consideration of an alternative announced this week by Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat seeking his party's nomination to challenge Perdue this year.

Taylor's measure, also a constitutional amendment, would prohibit future cuts to the HOPE program without a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly and a statewide referendum.

Democrats argued that Perdue's legislation doesn't guarantee that HOPE wouldn't face spending reductions in the future.

"The person who crafted HOPE wanted to amend this to make sure not to cut spending on HOPE,'' said Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Norcross, referring to Taylor, who introduced the legislation creating the HOPE program while serving as Miller's Senate floor leader. "That would have improved the governor's idea.''

But Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said the state is not in a position to determine the future funding of HOPE.

"We can't control how many lottery tickets are bought,'' he said. "If tickets are sold, we have more money to spend.''

Williams also accused Democrats of spending lottery money wastefully when they were in charge of state government. He cited examples of lottery funds going to the Atlanta Zoo and Albany's Parks at Chehaw.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said Republicans will move to reconsider the governor's constitutional amendment today.

If the motion passes, the measure would be referred back to the Senate Rules Committee. If it fails, the amendment would die.