Dire financials may push lawmakers to use lottery as a solution
The $1.2 billion revenue shortfall legislators expected to greet them as the General Assembly opened Tuesday may be enough to bring the lottery to North Carolina, area legislators said.
There are 21 new members in the state House who could change the chamber's perennial vote against the lottery, said Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus. And some who were formerly opposed to it, like him, may have changed their minds.
"I don't like the lottery," he said. "I was opposed to it the last time."
But watching North Carolinians buy lottery tickets at S.C. convenience stores not that far from his Whiteville home has convinced him people will play regardless of what the N.C. General Assembly says. And North Carolina needs the money now, he said.
Other delegation members agree, but Rep. Bonner Stiller, D-Brunswick, thinks the legislature should offer voters a nonbinding referendum on the lottery rather than approve it altogether.
Hill said the budget shortfall is serious enough that the state may have to look at new taxes on cigarettes, beer and wine, as well.
"I'm sure they're going to be on the table," he said.
But Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, said raising taxes is always an option for the General Assembly.
"I'd hate to do that," he said. "We may have to address the lottery."
The legislature has considered the lottery in each of its most recent sessions. Each time, it passed the Senate and failed in the House.
Whatever happens to the lottery, delegation members say money will dominate the session.
The General Assembly likely will also look at limiting damages in medical malpractice suits, assistance with prescription drug costs and regulations for retirement homes, Stiller said.
A statewide bill that would, among other things, give Brunswick and other counties the power to levy a property transfer tax likely will not pass muster. Nor would a local bill to give the authority to Brunswick County alone, Soles said.
"I will not support it," he said.
Stiller may and Hill will support a bill for a statewide school construction bond referendum.
Stiller said he wants to know exactly where the money from it would go before he would vote for it.
Stiller said it's important that legislators split the bond money so poorer counties would get the assistance they need.
"We're sitting here where things are wide open," he said of Brunswick County, "and it's hard to envision where things are not so good."