No vote yet on state lottery

By: - August 15, 2005 5:20 am

Asheville Citizen-Times
By Margaret Lillard

RALEIGH – After marathon sessions to wrap up a host of legislation, the Senate quit for the week Saturday without voting on a state lottery, casting doubt on whether this will be the year North Carolina becomes the last state on the East Coast to start a numbers game.

The chamber passed an overdue $17.2 billion budget Thursday – signed into law by Gov. Mike Easley on Saturday – then worked late into Friday night and for several hours Saturday on dozens of bills neglected during the extended debate and negotiations over the spending plan.

But with at least five Democrats, including Martin Nesbitt of Buncombe County, and all 21 Republicans resisting intense lobbying to win their support for the lottery, Senate leaders chose not to call a vote before the chamber adjourned.

"I’m just glad all the Senate members got out without having their arm broken or any physical harm," Sen. Fred Smith, R-Johnston, said.

The Senate has now wrapped up most of its work for the year, and both the House and Senate plan to take a week off as about 20 lawmakers go to Seattle for a national legislators’ conference. They will then return to Raleigh the following week to tie up loose ends and formally adjourn.

Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, has said he doesn’t want to take up too many items then – prompting the rare Friday and Saturday sessions. It wasn’t immediately clear if the lottery would come to a vote when lawmakers return, or if the issue will lie dormant until lawmakers meet in 2006.

"If there’s some movement on either side, you could still see the lottery this year," Basnight said. "The bill is alive for Tuesday-week, (and) anything that passes in this session is alive for the short session."

But lottery opponents appeared to be locked in position. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said the best argument she had heard is that North Carolina is losing potential revenue to surrounding states that have a lottery – but it wasn’t enough to change her vote.

"It’s been bad," Kinnaird said of the lobbying. "There’s been a lot of pressure."

Several educators from the district of Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, came to Saturday’s session in hopes of changing his mind or persuading him to drop out of the debate. Neither happened.

"We were asking him to leave the floor," said Kathy Canuette, a kindergarten teacher at Northwest Elementary School in Kinston.

The Senate’s Democratic leaders thought they might be able to sway not their own holdouts, but closet dissenters within the GOP, he said.

"This happens to be the position of the Republican Party in this state, that there will be no lottery," Basnight said. "There are some people in that caucus that probably would like to vote for it."

With opponents holding a 26-24 advantage in the 50-seat chamber, one changed vote could lead to victory. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, as Senate president, would be called upon to break a tie, Basnight said.

"Probably the largest vote or maybe the only vote she would take this year could occur if there’s any change of one. And she would vote in favor of the lottery," he said.

But with weeks of debate on the issue creating no cracks in the Republicans’ unity, any change seems unlikely.

Still, Smith said, "Hope always springs eternal. Don’t ever underestimate Marc Basnight and (Senate Majority Leader) Tony Rand."

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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