Regional Park’s seasonal lights

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The Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends kicked off its 16th year at Pine Bluff Regional Park Tuesday with the official lighting ceremony.

Under the steady hand of Greg Gustek, Pine Bluff Festival Association executive director, the Christmas light display has grown to 220 displays in 166 locations. That translates into 1.2 miles of Christmas lights.

It is the largest display of holiday lights in the state for the past six years. It is also one of the largest displays in the South.

For Donnie and Betty Massanelli, who threw the switch Tuesday to turn on the display, it serves as something they can take pride in for every resident of Pine Bluff.

Betty is one of the founding board members of the display and husband Donnie spent many hours with other volunteers over the years working to set up the displays for us to enjoy.

“My pride in this is that Pine Bluff has something that nobody else has,” Betty Massanelli said. “We started this 16 years ago with almost no money. We were all volunteers and we made donations to keep the display going. This was all thanks to volunteers and donations. This town could do anything if you put good people together like that. This is our gift to everybody.”

Well said.

The Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends will be open to the public daily between 6 and 9 p.m. through Dec. 31. Monetary donations are accepted, but not required.

Lottery shortfall

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It’s time for that old English Lit exercise: Compare and contrast.

Shane Broadway, interim director of the state Department of Higher Education, told the legislative oversight committee on the lottery this past week that if the department continues awarding scholarships in the current amounts, it is projected to run out of funds in February 2014.

The legislative committee is considering a proposal to reduce lottery scholarship spending by awarding Academic Challenge Scholarships at different amounts for each grade level.

Under the proposal, freshmen would receive $2,000 annually, sophomores $3,000, juniors $4,000 and seniors $5,000. Students currently receive $2,250 a year to attend a two-year college or $4,500 a year to attend a four-year university.

The lottery’s original director, Ernie Passailaigue, forecast annual revenues as high as $116.4 million when the lottery was launched in 2009.

The lottery was projected to raise $98 million in the current fiscal year, but state Lottery Director Bishop Woosley now says the $89-90 million is a more realistic goal if current trends continue.

State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she is concerned about the idea of limiting access to the scholarships by raising eligibility standards.

“I certainly represent a district that puts a lot of money in the lottery, but we have very few of our students who are awarded these lottery scholarships, so I would just ask we proceed with caution when changing any eligibility that would make it more difficult for my constituents to get lottery scholarships,” Flowers observed.

There are 32,782 students receiving lottery scholarships this semester, up 1,218 from a year ago.

If the lawmakers changed the program to require an ACT score of at least 19 to be eligible for the scholarships, a legislative analyst estimated 1,677 students would not be eligible for the scholarships.

We are inclined to agree with Sen. Flowers, who observed, “Bottom line it doesn’t help much.”

Is changing the rules in the middle of the game realistic? Or were we simply fed a game of smoke and mirrors?

Remember, they call the lottery “gaming,” not “gambling.”