DG promises this is his last lottery column

by DG Martin

Now that it is finally done, who are the winners and losers in the lottery fight?

The biggest winner might be you, if you are a regular reader of my column. My opposition to a state-run lottery has been so strong that you have had to endure lots of columns filled with my passion about the topic.

Your ordeal could be over.

The biggest losers might be the biggest supporters of the lottery.

The lobbyists and public relations consultants who have, off and on, been on the payrolls of gambling companies promoting the state lottery may have worked themselves out of their jobs. Some of them, however, may get a second wind, again representing these companies as they compete to get a contract to run the state’s new gambling business or working to expand the lottery’s operation.

Other losers might be the Democratic Party leadership. The governor, lieutenant governor, the house speaker and the senate leadership took prominent roles in the passage of the lottery this year. In public they are celebrating and congratulating each other. In private they worry that they have lost a popular political issue that helped them win the last two gubernatorial elections.

They remember what happened in South Carolina. In 1998 Democrat Jim Hodges won an upset victory over incumbent Governor David Beasley on a pro-lottery platform. But in 2002 the South Carolina lottery was in place. Without the lottery issue to help him, Hodges lost his reelection campaign.

Similarly, some North Carolina Democrats wish they could have kept the issue on the table for a few more elections.

For the same reason, some anti-lottery Republican politicians are glad they finally lost and got the lottery issue out of the way.

The deputy leader of the Republican minority in the state senate, Tom Apodaca from Hendersonville, told the ***Charlotte Observer***, ‘“I’ve always been against it, but I spent my whole weekend back in my district with everybody I saw saying, ‘Please vote for the lottery.’ From that point, I’m glad to get it off the table. I’m tired of hearing about it. We’ve got a lot of other important issues we need to be dealing with.’”

Apodaca might have added: ‘“And, having the lottery off the table is going to make it possible for us to win at election time.’”

The biggest losers over time may well be the students in public schools. With the lottery supposedly taking care of school construction needs, local voters may be less likely to approve school bond issues. Actually, even the most optimistic projections of lottery proceeds would cover only a small fraction of estimated needs. Also, even though the legislature has ‘promised’ not to reduce other funding for schools, we have learned that you cannot take such ‘promises’ to the bank.

Speaking of promises that might not be kept, don’t count on me keeping the one I made about not writing any more about the lottery.

Here is why: The lottery issue might not be over quite yet.

Some lottery opponents may be exploring the possibility of challenging it on constitutional grounds.

The North Carolina Constitution requires ‘“revenue bills’” to be approved on two separate days. The lottery bill was approved on a single day.

The question then is whether or not the lottery legislation was a ‘“revenue bill.’”

Here is what the constitution says:

‘“Sec. 23. Revenue bills. No law shall be enacted to raise money on the credit of the State, or to pledge the faith of the State directly or indirectly for the payment of any debt, or to impose any tax upon the people of the State, or to allow the counties, cities, or towns to do so, unless’….’”

Is the lottery a tax or does it pledge the state’s credit?

You be the judge.

John Locke Foundation President John Hood argues ‘“that the proceeds transferred from the lottery coffers to the state treasury, typically about a third, is a tax.’”

If a court agrees with Hood, the lottery will be back on the legislature’s table. The Democrats will keep a popular issue for another election season.

And you will have to continue to endure my anti-lottery columns.