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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 00:00

Lottery’s proceeds unfairly flowing east

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The effort to change the lottery funding formula so that counties in Western North Carolina get their fair share of proceeds is, for all intents and purposes, dead for this year. That’s too bad, but it also leaves voters with an important issue to discuss with candidates during the upcoming legislative election.

When the lottery bill was finalized last year, it put in place a relatively complicated funding formula. Understanding that formula is important, especially since it is expected that the 35 percent of the proceeds that will go toward education should reach $420 million this year. That’s a lot of cash, and it will help fund some big improvements in our schools.

Here’s the quick version of the education formula: half of the 35 percent going to education will be used to reduce class size in the early grades. Another 10 percent will provide college scholarships to those low-income students who already qualify for the federal Pell Grant program. Finally, 40 percent will go toward building projects.

But here’s the rub: of the percentage for building projects, 35 percent will go to counties that have a higher-than-average property tax rate. That average is about 66 cents per $100 of valuation, which means none of the 22 westernmost counties qualify. Break all that down, and our counties will get about 14 percent less from the lottery to build schools than most of the eastern counties.

Max Cogburn, a state lottery commission member from Asheville, recently told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he wants the formula changed: “I would love to see it done on a per capita basis rather than some formula that doesn’t result in that.”

Legislation was introduced this year to change the formula so that all the construction money would be divided based on how many students each system serves. It never got out of committee. A majority of lawmakers decided that it was prudent to leave the formula alone for the first year of the lottery and wait until the long session to try and change the formula.

That sounds reasonable enough, but this problem with the lottery funding formula is not going to go away. There’s no justification for this disparity, and it needs to be changed as soon as possible.


A no vote for science

Whenever the issue of stem cell research arises, it is always politicized. The truth, though, is that there is no better symbol of the Bush administration’s narrow-minded world view than the recent decision to veto a bill that would have allowed researchers to conduct more stem cell research and perhaps find cures for life-threatening and crippling diseases.

The bill that came to President Bush’s desk would have allowed researchers to conduct research on embryos that were originally to be used for in vitro fertilization but were set to be destroyed. No embryos would be collected and prepared solely for the purpose of research.

The debate over week-old embryos in the womb is not what’s at stake here. This is far removed from the abortion debate, but it somehow always gets associated with it. This is about science, about making a case for using what has become available rather than simply disposing of it.

Unfortunately, this president chose to deny potential cures to hundreds of thousands of victims of any number of terrible diseases. They will suffer because of his decision.

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