The North Carolina House could vote on whether to start a North Carolina lottery as early as today, House Speaker Jim Black said Tuesday, but there could be plenty of reasons for a delay.
Lottery supporters and opponents say there still doesn’t appear to be enough votes to pass a bill, the details of which were still being worked out by leaders of a committee picked by Black.
"I’m still thinking about (Wednesday)," Black said of a floor vote. But he’d be willing to wait, especially if he doesn’t have the 61 votes necessary for a majority.
"I’ve let things roll over for a week or more," he said.
Opponents sounded confident that they could withstand a vote today.
"I think if we vote on it (Wednesday), it will be defeated," said Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-Mitchell. "It’s going to be defeated if we vote on it (Wednesday), next week or whenever we vote for it. The question is how much will it be defeated by."
John Rustin, a lobbyist with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, added: "We are confident that the majority of members in the House will oppose the lottery."
Lottery supporters, however, believe the vote is close, with only two or three votes separating them from victory.
The outcome is "left to be determined," said Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, one of a handful of GOP members who support the lottery.
Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, supports a lottery, but is not a betting man when it comes to predicting a lottery vote. "It’s going to be close," he said.
Black and other lottery supporters appeared to focus on a three-pronged approach to dividing up the profits, which could reach $450 million annually.
Black, D-Mecklenburg, said he wants a lottery bill that would give at least half the proceeds to local school construction.
Another 25 percent would go to need-based scholarships, with the rest to Gov. Mike Easley’s pet education initiatives, such as class-size reduction and the More at Four preschool program.
Black was asked if Easley, who has sought a lottery for education spending since taking office, likes the proposal. Black said: "The governor is not voting in here. I told the governor I’ll pass what I can pass."
Easley’s lobbyists have been out in force this week around the halls of the Legislative Building.
"The governor is working closely with Speaker Black on the lottery issue," Easley spokeswoman Sherri Johnson said. Lottery opponents have been e-mailing their legislators urging them to vote against any bill.