Local News

Lottery Debate Starts Up Again

Posted June 23, 2003

— With no state budget on the table and uncomfortable cuts ahead, a lottery again is generating a lot of talk in Raleigh.

This time, support is coming from an unlikely source -- the State House.

North Carolina residents play the lottery in other states, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Last year, the lottery lost by 19 votes in the State House.

Last week, according to Rep. Bill Owens of Pasquotank County, "I think we picked up one or two votes. But we are a few votes short."

Owens, a Democrat from Elizabeth City, is the chief sponsor of an advisory referendum. He said supporters are just five votes short of victory in the House.

Owens, a Democrat from Elizabeth City, is the chief sponsor of an advisory referendum. He said supporters are just five votes short of victory in the House.

Gov. Mike Easley said the lottery is the easiest way to put together a reasonable budget plan. He believes a lottery could bring in several hundred million dollars a year for schools.

Jim Black, the Democratic Speaker of the House, said he won't allow a lottery as part of the House budget. But a vote on a lottery referendum could come after the budget is passed.

"You know I support their decision," Owens said, "because we don't have the votes. No need to jeopardize the budget."

Opponents remain confident the House won't drop the ball and let the lottery pass.

"If you took the lottery as a straight up or down vote, you might get 30 to 35 votes in the House of people who support the lottery in and of itself," said John Rustin of the N.C. Family Policy Council. "With the referendum, it kind of gives them a way out to say they are just passing the decision along to their constituents."

North Carolina remains the only eastern state that doesn't have a lottery. An advisory referendum would let the voters have a say on the lottery, but not require lawmakers' actions.

While the lottery gains momentum in the House, the effort to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol is struggling. The increases were proposed in the Senate.

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