A state lottery? Wait till next year; unless 1 vote changes

By: - August 22, 2005 5:42 am

Wilmington StarNews Online

Choose whatever metaphor you like – fourth and inches, two outs in the bottom of the ninth or seconds left on the clock.
The chances that a government-run lottery will be approved in North Carolina this year are looking slim.
Here’s the matchup: 24 yes votes in the state Senate and 26 noes. Those no votes are divided into two groups – the Democratic “Lottery 5” and the so-far solid 21 Senate Republicans.
The yes voters, who include Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, and Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, argue that North Carolina needs a lottery to counteract the flow of North Carolina dollars into the lotteries of neighboring states and to provide more money for public education.
The five no-vote Democrats are senators Charlie Albertson of Beulaville, Daniel Clodfelter of Charlotte, Janet Cowell of Raleigh, Eleanor Kinnaird of Carrboro and Martin Nesbitt of Asheville. They all make, more or less, the same argument: A lottery would be bad for the state and hurt the poor.
Republican arguments are similar, but the caucus is also motivated by a desire to deny the Senate’s Democratic leaders a legislative victory 15 months before an election.
The 22-year lottery debate in North Carolina, for now, hinges on a single vote in the state Senate.
The irony is high. Over the years, the lottery has been more popular in the Senate than in the House. This year it was the House that mustered the will to pass the bill, and it is the proponents in the Senate who are struggling.
If one of the no votes changes, then the House lottery bill that has slept on the Senate calendar since spring would pass, the governor would sign it, and lottery tickets would be available soon.
Senate leaders and lottery proponents have spent a lot of time recently trying to change the votes of opponents but without success.
In search of a vote
The pro-lottery N.C. Association of Educators – an interest group of teachers and other school workers – has asked members who live in the five Democratic senators’ districts to call the Legislative Building and press for a lottery.
During the Senate’s rare Saturday session earlier this month, the group brought members to the Senate chamber to talk with Mr. Albertson and Ms. Cowell.
Lottery proponents are even looking to Republicans for that magic vote.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, has been on the receiving end of pleas to vote yes (or to be missing when the vote is called) for more than two weeks now.
He doesn’t oppose the lottery on principle, as the Lottery 5 do.
But so far, he has stood firm on his position that he’d vote for a lottery only if all the proceeds went to local school construction. There’s little chance of that – the bill sends lottery money in many directions.
Even if they wanted to, Senate leaders can’t change the bill to suit Mr. Brown.
The legislative process is in a particularly late stage. In essence, the details of the lottery plan are done. They were included in the budget the General Assembly passed earlier this month and that Gov. Mike Easley signed into law. They were passed contingent on Senate approval of the original House bill.
What remains is Senate passage of that original bill. For the budget provisions to come into effect and to prevent the necessity of sending the bill back to the House, where a second vote would probably not succeed, the Senate needs to pass the House bill as it is.
Here’s the kicker: Legislative leaders hope to close down this year’s General Assembly session on Tuesday.
They could keep it going through the week but not much longer than that. With the budget done, there’s little to keep lawmakers in town.
But then again, there’s always 2006 – the lottery bill can’t die until the end of next year’s General Assembly session.

Mark Schreiner is chief of the Star-News bureau in Raleigh. Reach him at (919) 835-1434 or [email protected]

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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