More lottery lunacy and a wakeup call

By: - March 10, 2005 2:44 pm

There must a lot of members of the North Carolina House who swallowed hard Thursday when someone told them that Speaker Black was inclined to push for a straight up or down vote on the lottery instead of a referendum.

Black went further than that, calling the referendum unconstitutional in an article in the Winston-Salem Journal. That makes it hard to imagine the House ever voting on a bill calling for a vote of the people on the lottery.

That leaves just an up or down vote on the lottery itself. It also leaves a significant number of lawmakers in a box. Lawmakers like Rep. Alice Underhill, who said earlier this year “I personally don’t think lotteries are a great way to do business. It’s generally not good public policy to be in the gambling business, obviously.”

But Underhill said she would support letting the people vote on it. What does she do now? Sen. Harry Brown has said he thinks the lottery hurts the poor, but he supports a referendum. How would he vote on the lottery itself, to hurt poor people or put the state in the gambling business?

There are many more legislators who have used the same logic to support lottery bills—hate the lottery, but support a referendum to let the people decide. It lets lawmakers have it both ways. Black has now taken one of those ways off the table.

If lawmakers vote their convictions and live up to their public statements, the lottery will lose in the House.

One more lottery note. The spin machine in the Governor’s office has convinced many in the media to constantly refer to the “education lottery.” There is no such thing as an education lottery. As you have read here and other places many times before, state with lotteries don’t all spend more on schools, the lottery proceeds just supplant other education dollars.

Governor Easley likes to say that people in North Carolina are already paying for schools in Virginia and other bordering states by playing their lotteries. A few years ago, Virginia decided to spend 80 percent of lottery proceeds on education. Sounds like the plan Easley has for North Carolina.

Easley and other lottery supporters ought to read a recent article in the Hampton Roads Daily Press about how far Virginia lags behind the national average in teacher salaries. The article even quotes an education official saying that Virginia is losing teachers to North Carolina. North Carolina pays teachers more. That’s odd, a state that ought to be flush with money from its much-heralded lottery losing teachers to a non-lottery state.

Maybe the Virginia lottery is really the low-teacher-salary lottery.

Is that what we want in North Carolina, to target the poor, supplant education funding, and spend less money on our schools?

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066