06/13/06 — Still questions: Months after debut, lottery is still topic of discussion

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Still questions: Months after debut, lottery is still topic of discussion

It should really come as no surprise that state legislators are still not completely certain that they know exactly how the proceeds for the brand new state lottery will be distributed.

After all, legislators are famous for rushing to create something before anybody is really sure what the positives, the negatives and the problems will be.

Why should North Carolina’s lottery be any different?

What is still somewhat surprising, however, is that there really are some questions about what the money will be used for — and that there are even some legislators who doubt that the money should be spent completely on improving North Carolina’s schools.

The worry is, of course, that the money that will be earmarked for education and paid for with lottery funds will not be additional spending — that it will be funds that had already been slated for schools in the regular budget. In that case, there would be limited “new” money spent on schools, and really, the state’s educational system would be only a little better off than it was before the lottery debuted.

That is not what state officials told the voters when they first came up with the idea of bringing a lottery to North Carolina.

The new program was slated for schools — and its revenues were determined to be specifically for that purpose. There were no other discussions and no other agreements.

And as discussions continue about the lottery and the budget, taxpayers and voters need to pay close attention to what the final numbers are and who gets the money.

So far, the lottery has been a positive for the state. There have been record sales and quite a few winners, especially in the state’s new Powerball ticket sales.

So, when it is all said and done, the lottery just might bring in a whole lot more money than anyone originally planned — and that could be a very positive result.

Making sure that the money does not become another bureaucratic boondoggle — or a chance for a few legislators to meander around the caveat that the proceeds will be spent for education — is extremely important.

A successful lottery could bring a lot more money and many more programs to North Carolina’s schools and, in turn, the students they serve.

With careful attention to detail and a very sharp eye for legislative shenanigans, we can make sure the lottery stays true to its purpose. Otherwise, it will just be another program that was once a good idea, but eventually became the victim of politics.

Published in Editorials on June 13, 2006 11:23 AM