EDITORIAL: Promise on Lottery Proves Short-Lived
Well. That didn't take long.
In 2005, when the N.C. General Assembly approved the state lottery -- something it never should have done in the first place -- solemn promises were made all around that proceeds from this legalized gambling scheme would go only for education. That's why they ended up calling it the "Education Lottery." Mike Easley, governor at the time, even called unsuccessfully for a constitutional "lockbox" to assure that result, though it didn't materialize.
Beverly Perdue, then lieutenant governor, cast the deciding vote in favor of the measure, breaking a tie that emerged when lottery proponents shamefully took advantage of the absence of two opponents, one on a honeymoon and the other in a sickbed.
Now, less than three years after the lottery went into business, Perdue is in the governor's hotseat, and the bottom has fallen out of the economy, and -- sure enough -- the promise is already looking like history.
An 'I-Told-You-So' Moment
Though she didn't mention it Monday night in her State of the State message (which seemed a little long on rhetoric and short on specifics all the way around), Perdue had made it clear earlier that she intends to shift up to $88 million of lottery money into the state's general coffers to help make a dent in the $3 billion budget shortfall expected in the next fiscal year.
"It was a cautionary step the governor was forced to take to maintain adequate cash flow to meet the state's financial obligations," said Perdue's spokesperson, Chrissy Pearson. "She stands behind her pledge to support the public school system as much as possible, knowing that she'll have to make some difficult decisions."
The response wasn't long in coming. "This is exactly what the opponents of the lottery said would happen," complained Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican. "And if they continue to bill it as an 'education lottery,' it's a farce." Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, who noted that he and other lottery opponents had predicted just such a backslide, called the current situation "an I-told-you-so moment."
People Vs. Bricks
To be fair, it should be noted that Superintendent Susan Purser of the Moore County school system expressed praise and gratitude on Tuesday for the approach Perdue has taken, which seems aimed at preserving classroom instruction where possible while putting off longer-term expenses on things like capital projects. In general, the governor has also taken care to spare education the much deeper cuts other departments of state government are having to endure.
"There has been a concerted effort to minimize the impact on K-12 education," Purser said. "Other areas have been hit far more severely. ... Money is needed right now. So they have identified the second-quarter lottery earnings [to see what funds could be temporarily diverted], and when it comes down to looking at people or bricks, I'm going to go for people."
Everyone recognizes that our new governor -- like our new president -- has stepped into the middle of a horrific economic situation that does, indeed, require "difficult decisions." She faces huge budget shortfalls, and a disproportionate amount of the budget has to do with education, so something had to give somewhere.
Still, this episode only adds to the general public suspicion, unfortunately rampant these days, that politicians can't be trusted to keep their word. Crisis or no, a promise is still a promise.
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