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Lawmaker sees a problem in lottery scholarship plan

Earmarking state Lottery dollars for college scholarships will balloon into a $120-million-a-year headache for state budget writers, an appropriations panel chairman warns.

The seemingly modest plan calls for a "massive funding shift," said Rep. Bill Sublette, chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee.

The lottery scholarship proposal worrying Sublette, R-Orlando, is pending before his Education Appropriations panel, which next meets Thursday.

Reps. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and Cynthia Chestnut, D-Gainesville, both sponsored bills to use $27-million of Lottery funds to help pay for more than 40,000 university, community college and vocational and technical school scholarships.

Lawmakers need a specific benefit they can point to when people ask where the money goes, Pruitt said.

The proposals sound like "motherhood and apple pie," Sublette admitted, and in the first year they would take only $27-million of the $800-million the Lottery provides to schools.

The problem arises as successive years of students come along and earn scholarships. By the time four years worth of scholarship winners are in college, the potential cost jumps to $120-million a year, Sublette said.

Instead of going to school districts, the money will go to colleges and universities, he pointed out.

"It's a massive funding shift from K-12 to the universities," Sublette said. "The districts are dependent on those revenues."

Senate President Toni Jennings, R-Orlando, said the Senate, too, is committed to using Lottery money for scholarships.

The Senate's current budget allocation would move $75-million of Lottery money to scholarships and replace it with general revenue.

Like Pruitt, Jennings said lawmakers want to show that they are using Lottery money appropriately.

"Scholarships we believe is a great place to do that," she said. "We showed that the Senate was committed to replacing that with general revenue dollars, not leaving any holes."

In his $42-billion budget request, Gov. Lawton Chiles proposes using $19.4-million for Lottery scholarships and replacing it with general revenue.