LITTLE ROCK — The state Lottery Commission on Monday considered raising lottery employees’ mileage reimbursement rate to a level higher than that paid to other state employees but decided to delay action until it can run the idea past state legislators.
The commission voted to table a proposal by member Doug Pierce of Jonesboro to raise lottery employees’ reimbursement rate from 42 cents per mile to 56 1/2 cents per mile, the maximum rate that is considered deductible as a business expense by the Internal Revenue Service. The standard reimbursement rate for employees across Arkansas state government is 42 cents per mile, but the commission has the authority to set its own rate.
Pierce made the motion during a commission meeting that followed a meeting of the commission’s Retail and Marketing Committee in which the committee voted 3-1 to recommend the increase.
Pierce proposed raising the rate for the lottery’s marketing and sales representatives, or MSRs, who are required to drive extensively.
"Gasoline has increased 28 percent over the time we’ve had MSRs," he said during the committee meeting. "Their expenses have continued to go up, and we’ve done nothing to offset that. … I have kind of landed in the camp that this is the best thing to do for people."
Commissioner Mark Scott of Bentonville said he opposed the proposal.
"You may think it’s the right thing to do for our employees, but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for our scholarship recipients," Scott said. "I think our perspective is getting a little away here from what our true mission, our true intent is."
During the meeting of the full nine-member commission, Pierce said raising the rate for MSRs would cost the lottery an additional $67,000 a year, which he said would not be a material expense.
Bruce Engstrom of North Little Rock said he believed the commission should treat all employees the same. Pierce said after the meeting he did not have an estimate of the cost to provide the increase to all lottery employees, but he estimated that MSRs account for 80 percent to 90 percent of the driving that lottery employees do.
Engstrom proposed, as a substitute for Pierce’s motion, that the commission delay making a decision to give the legislative committee that oversees the lottery a chance to provide input. The motion carried in a 5-3 vote, with Chairman George Hammons of Pine Bluff not voting.
Also Monday, Lottery Director Bishop Woosley told the commission that as of Aug. 31 the lottery’s net proceeds for the fiscal year that began July 1 totaled $11.3 million, down from $11.9 million at the same time a year earlier.
Woosley noted that the jackpots of the Natural State Jackpot, Mega Millions and Powerball games were at $120,000, $130 million and $400 million, respectively, which he said should boost ticket sales.
"Any deficit we should make up fairly well and probably at least be back even or maybe even better if these jackpots keep growing," he said.
Shane Broadway, interim director of the state Department of Higher Education, told the commission that according to preliminary data, 13,522 traditional students have been awarded lottery-funded scholarships for the current school year, down from 13,727 that were awarded for the 2012-13 school year.
The number for the current year is expected to increase, in part because students who went to summer school have until Oct. 1 to submit their transcripts, Broadway said.
He also said that 4,056 non-traditional students have been awarded scholarships this year, including 2,361 who are entering the system for the first time.
"I am glad to report to you that as of this moment, for the first time since the inception, we no longer have a waiting list of non-traditional students," he said.
Lottery scholarships are awarded to all traditional students who apply and meet the academic requirements, but the state Legislature has set a cap on awards to non-traditional students, which in past years has led to some students going on a waiting list. The cap is $12 million this year and will increase to $16 million next year.
Also during Monday’s meeting, representatives of the lottery’s main vendors, Intralot and Scientific Games, presented a $40,000 donation to Arkansas Upward Bound to improve technology-based education for Upward Bound students.