ATLANTA — Georgia Lottery officials are receiving large raises at a time when state lawmakers had to slash the state's HOPE scholarship program, which is paid out of ticket sales.
Six of the lottery's top executives saw boosts in base pay last year of more than $10,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Records obtained by the newspaper show that former lottery President Margaret DeFrancisco received $142,475 for "unused leave" when she retired in mid-November 2012. That money came on top of the $141,753 in salary she earned for the 4 ½ months she worked that fiscal year before she retired.
In 2013, after state law curtailed widespread bonuses for lottery employees, bonuses were down. But all 10 executives below the lottery president saw their base pay rise.
Lottery officials said Friday their overall payroll -- salaries and bonuses -- has decreased nearly 4 percent since 2009, while ticket sales have continued to grow most years since then.
But the recent payouts surprised some members of the General Assembly, which has raised questions about salaries and bonuses at the lottery at a time when they've had to deny state employees and teachers cost-of-living raises since the start of the Great Recession.
"We've cut back on paying for tuition, so kids and moms and dads are paying more, but we're loading more into the pockets of people managing the fund," said state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans.
"And then we have boards doing things like this, giving raises, giving huge payouts, it's troubling," Harbin said. "It's troubling, to put it mildly."
The lottery, considered one of the best in the nation, funds the HOPE Scholarship and pre-kindergarten classes. Even booming ticket sales, however, have struggled to keep up with growth in those programs. When lawmakers approved legislation in 2011 to prevent the programs from going broke, part of the deal was a severe curtailing of lottery staff bonuses.