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Wednesday, 07 March 2007 00:00

Easley’s budget goes wrong way on lottery

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Gov. Mike Easley’s proposed budget would decrease the portion of lottery proceeds going to education — before legislators have a chance to fix an already unfair funding formula that shorts the western part of the state — a gamble that citizens throughout the state just shouldn’t support.

 

According to the budget unveiled last week in Raleigh, Easley would reduce the portion of lottery proceeds going to education from 35 to 29 percent. Then, of the money going toward education, Easley wants to reduce the amount slated to go for school construction and scholarships while increasing funding for his More at Four program for early childhood development.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported that Easley’s budget proposal would mean a decrease of $43 million for counties to use to build schools, which was a major selling point for the lottery. That amounts to a 24 percent decrease in school construction money at a time when, according to legislative data, schools in North Carolina have a $10 billion backlog of building needs.

This comes as western lawmakers were hoping to get the lottery funding formula fixed so that counties in the west would not be penalized. When the lottery was passed, it was decided that 35 percent of the money allocated for school construction would be divided by counties with property tax rates higher than the state average. Only 11 western counties meet this criteria, and none in our region. That means our students will get hundreds of thousands of dollars less for new schools and renovations.

The reduction of lottery proceeds going to education to 29 percent also presents an interesting attempt by the governor. Easley wants to let the lottery commission use the money to increase payouts. According to his budget predictions, this will actually lead to an increase in lottery proceeds, which so far are about 20 percent less than expected. There is also expected to be a call in this year’s General Assembly arguing for loosening restrictions on advertising the lottery, a move many think will boost ticket sales.

Look, Easley’s More at Four program for pre-schoolers is important. No one is arguing otherwise. And the lottery funding formula certainly is open for change as the game gets established in North Carolina and we get a better handle on what the proceeds will be.

But we will argue that, first, let’s get the construction allocation formula fixed. Right now it cheats the west. Then, let’s talk about making other changes. That said, it will be a hard sell to cut education money from the Education Lottery in hopes of selling more tickets.

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