Local Politics

Easley Could Face Long Odds to Redirect Lottery Money

Posted March 7, 2007 6:18 p.m. EST

— Gov. Mike Easley would like to shift more lottery proceeds to an early childhood education program, and the suggestion is quickly drawing heat from state lawmakers.

Easley recently was criticized for his suggestion that more lottery revenue be paid out in prizes as a way to attract more players and generate more money for the state. Now, he is taking another political gamble by proposing that more lottery revenue to go to his More-At-Four preschool program and to reduce student-teacher ratios.

"For those recurring expenditures, it only makes sense. You're going to have to pay those teachers every single year. You want to make sure those are covered first," Easley said.

The revised formula has hit a wall of resistance from many lawmakers. They said local constituents are begging for more school construction money.

"He puts more money into his pet program and less money to counties, less money for college scholarships," House Minority Leader Phil Berger said. "I don't think a whole lot of it."

Easley said other sources of revenue are available for school construction needs, such as bond issues.

Noting the lottery barely passed through the General Assembly two years ago, Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, said changing it wouldn't be easy, especially when revenues are unpredictable.

"Putting it on the table could be very dangerous," Crawford said. "The governor wants to take money out of the General Fund now to back-fill or to put money into these two programs if the lottery isn't going to produce that money. That's something we're going to have to look at very closely."

Lottery officials announced Tuesday that the state-run numbers games has awarded $403 million in prizes so far, including a $74 million Powerball jackpot won by a Halifax woman. Eighty-seven people won at least $100,000.

Easley built lottery revenues into his budget, so the battle over the lottery funding formula will continue as long as lawmakers pick apart the budget.