Commentary, News

Yet another story shines an unflattering light on the NC lottery

LotteryThe Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the North Carolina State Lottery meets this morning in Raleigh. Let’s hope this new article by reporter Jessi Stone of the Smoky Mountain News (“Little help from the lottery: N.C.’s education games falling short of promises”) is on everyone’s desk. As Stone reports:

Over the last nine years, the lottery has contributed $4 billion to K-12 education —funding school construction, pre-K programs, college scholarships and keeping teachers in the classrooms.

The state may tout that $4 billion has gone to education, but school officials say that number can be a bit disingenuous.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools, said lottery funding was supposed to provide additional funding for education, but it seems like every year legislators are budgeting less for education from the general fund and relying on lottery funds to make up the difference. Before the lottery was created, the counties received state funding for capital projects through the ADM (average daily membership) allotment, but now that money has disappeared.

“ADM is what the state used to give us, but that went away and they supplanted that with lottery funds,” Nolte said. “In an ideal world they would have not supplanted the ADM and they would have given us the lottery funds. And as sales increased across the state, funding would increase, but instead it’s been cut in half.”

Looking at the amount of lottery funding Haywood County has received for capital projects over the last nine years, the numbers have been all over the board. The county started out getting $373,459 in 2007 and received just over $1 million in 2011 when the state was receiving federal stimulus dollars, but that allocation was cut in half the next year. Haywood County is expecting to receive only $179,000 in 2016. The uncertainty in funding makes it difficult for the school system to rely on lottery funds for maintenance or construction projects….

So where is the general fund money going if it isn’t going toward education?

[Rep. Joe Sam] Queen said he knows exactly where it’s going.

“The lottery was sold to the public as extra money for education, but Republican legislators have cut the base funding and supplanted the revenue from the lottery, so the net hasn’t been positive for education,” he said. “And that base funding has been given away in tax cuts to the wealthiest individuals and corporations in North Carolina.”

Queen said Republican legislators have been deceptive in saying that education spending has increased over the last few years while the party has been in the majority in Raleigh.

“They’ve been cutting education for the last two years and back-filled it with lottery money,” he said. “And they haven’t even restored the funding cuts that were necessary during the recession.”

During the recession, North Carolina befitted from more than $15 million in federal stimulus money. Nearly $3 million of that went to the Department of Public Instruction, but after that money dried up and the state budget began to recover, the education budget never did.

The bottom line: The lottery has been a boondoggle from the start — both in the deception that is so ingrained in its marketing and education messages and in the regressive way it raises money. If North Carolina wants to have a publicly-run gambling enterprise, that’s fine, but it would be better off to put all of the money into prizes and dispense with the deception and regressivity that are inherent in the current system.

Click here to read Stone’s story.

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