Charlotte Observer Editorial
By Jim Black, N.C. House Speaker
North Carolina must make the education of our children our number one priority and find the needed revenue to fund it. The future of our state and its people depend upon it.
Unfortunately, the North Carolina legislature is facing a budget shortfall of more than $1.2 billion in the upcoming year. In order to continue improving education, legislators will either have to increase taxes or find new revenue sources to help fund education.
Raising taxes to pay for education or other programs must be a last option, so I believe that the time has come to create a lottery in North Carolina.
I have never been a strong supporter of the lottery, but North Carolinians are already playing the lottery in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Our citizens are sending more than $300 million each year to these states to pay for the education of their children. We must keep that money in North Carolina for our own children and their education.
I believe that legislators must do what it takes to keep this money here at home.
As speaker of the House and as a legislator from Mecklenburg County, which is right across the border from South Carolina and dozens of convenience stores that sell lottery tickets to North Carolinians, it is my hope that within the next two weeks the N.C. House of Representatives will vote on, and approve, legislation that would create a lottery.
Polls show support
North Carolina is one of only eight states that do not have a lottery.Numerous polls show that overwhelmingly North Carolinians want a lottery in our state.
Elon University conducted a statewide poll in February, which found that 69 percent of those surveyed supported the creation of a state lottery in North Carolina, and 37 percent said they had bought a lottery ticket in a neighboring state in the past 12 months.
Some critics of the lottery say that gambling is a sin. I am not an advocate of gambling, but I believe that not providing our children with the best possible education in safe schools, and teaching them in cramped trailers, are much bigger sins.
Communities across North Carolina are having to raise property taxes each year in order to build enough classrooms to hold all the new students who are showing up at the schoolhouse door.
Many school districts are facing school construction needs of more than $100 million. Others are even higher, including Mecklenburg County at more than $700 million, New Hanover County at $350 million and Wake County at $340 million.
Use proceeds to help schools
Supporters of the lottery have suggested using the proceeds for school construction and to reduce class size, to provide college scholarships for needy students with at least a B average to attend our in-state colleges and universities, and to fund early childhood education.
We must also look at the possibility of providing additional funding for alternative learning programs for disruptive students, for schools in low-wealth counties to address the long-running Leandro lawsuit, and for increasing teacher salaries.
Lottery proceeds should only be dedicated to providing additional funding for education, not replacing what we already spend, and not paying for advertising to try to lure people into believing they have a better chance of winning jackpots.
All of these options, and possibly others, are on the table and will be considered by legislators in the coming days.
Do what is right
I expect that the upcoming vote in the House will be extremely close, but I hope that the will of the people to fund education is stronger, because the education of our children must be our top priority.
It is time to do what is right for the education of our children. If it takes passing a lottery to better fund education and keep the more than $300 million in lottery sales here in North Carolina instead of neighboring states, then that is what we must do.
Jim Black of Matthews, a Democrat, represents the 100th District in the N.C. House of Representatives. He is serving his 10th term as a legislator and fourth term as speaker of the House.