Bids Open on 25 State Highway Project
BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The enormous Powerball prize generated record sales of lottery tickets in Arkansas and increased income for college scholarships.
However, legislative leaders said they would take a long term view of the program’s finances and be cautious about any attempt to raise scholarship amounts.
Arkansas voters approved a measure to create the lottery scholarship program in 2008, and the first round of scholarship awards were $5,000 a year for students at four-year universities and $2,500 a year for students at two-year colleges.
Revenue from the lottery peaked in Fiscal Year 2012, but the initial popularity has faded and ticket sales have dropped off. The legislature has had to lower scholarship amounts to maintain the financial integrity of the program. The most recent reduction was in the 2015 regular session, after the director of the Higher Education Department warned that the program would soon have a negative balance.
Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, freshmen who qualify will receive $1,000 and if they maintain their grades they will get $4,000 as sophomores, $4,000 as juniors and $5,000 their senior year. Students at two-year colleges will get $1,000 their first year and $3,000 their second year. To maintain their scholarships once they’re in college, students must take a minimum number of hours and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
High school students entering college for the first time must have a minimum composite score of 19 on the ACT standardized test.
According to the state Higher Education Department, awards fell off between school year 2014 and 2015 from about $113 million to about $100 million. In both years from 35,000 to 36,000 students received awards.
The income boost from the sales of Powerball tickets is welcome, but key legislators don’t expect changes in scholarships anytime soon.
The Senate chairman of the Lottery Oversight Committee said that he wanted to examine lottery trends over an 18 month or two-year period before considering possible increases in scholarship amounts. The Speaker of the House was similarly cautious in comments to the press.
Normally the sale of Powerball tickets in Arkansas is about $2 million a month, but the recent record prize heightened interest. People who don’t usually buy lottery tickets decided to purchase them because of the publicity. On the Saturday before the drawing, $4.4 million in Powerball tickets were sold in Arkansas. That was a record until the Wednesday of the drawing, when $5.9 million in tickets were sold.
The current fiscal year just passed the halfway mark and already more Powerball tickets have been sold than during all of last fiscal year.
The state Highway Commission opened bids on 25 highway and bridge projects. If the bids are approved, their estimated cost will be $283.3 million.
The largest single project, estimated to cost almost $78 million, is to replace the Interstate 40 bridge over the White River. It will take about two years to complete, according to the contractor who submitted the low bid.
A spokesman for the Highway and Transportation Department said that traffic would continue to cross the existing bridge while the new bridge is being built, but would be affected once the new bridge has to be connected to the existing lanes of I-40.
About 26,000 vehicles a day use the White River bridge over I-40 and more than half are large trucks.