North Carolina Senate leadership pushed a budget through the chamber May 5 with a lottery provision that might give new life to the House lottery bill.
The budget's lottery provision would amend the lottery bill narrowly passed by the House in early April if the Senate votes in favor of the House measure.
Several staunch opponents of the lottery voted for the budget because of strong support for other parts of the bill.
"I'm forced to vote for the lottery," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.
Kinnaird said she voted for the budget because it would increase the cigarette tax and includes funding for public education.
The budget would raise the cigarette tax by 75 cents and would allocate education funds based on the number of school districts in a county.
But Kinnaird's vote for the budget does not change her stance on the lottery.
"I'll never vote for a free-standing lottery," she said.
If both the Senate budget bill and the House lottery bill are passed, lottery revenue would not go to higher education, as the House bill stipulated, but fund school construction and educational programs such as Gov. Mike Easley's "More at Four" program.
Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, a primary sponsor of the lottery bill that passed in the House by two votes, was reluctant to pass judgement on the Senate's proposed budget.
"I'm going to listen very closely to Speaker Black," he said.
Owens said he knew several senators might not vote for the budget because the lottery provision would fail to provide funding for college scholarships.
"They can't support it without the scholarships," Owens said.
Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said the lottery provision was meant to focus on public education and school construction.
"We were trying to use it more for education at the lower levels," he said.
He added that the state has allocated funds for college scholarships through other legislation.
"It's a matter of priorities," said Elaine Mejia, director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. "The bulk of the discussion over the years has been for public schools."
Mejia said adding amendments for counseling and education of gambling addiction could soften the opinions of lottery opponents who are morally opposed to the measure.
"It would dilute the support of some of the foes of the lottery."
Owens said the lottery bill did not need to be amended to include funding for education and gambling addiction counseling because that could be handled by the lottery commission.
"I'm confident the commission can do it," Owens said. "The experts need to make the calls."
Several lottery supporters said they are optimistic that the two chambers will reach a compromise.
Opined Owens: "I'm hoping at the end of the day we can compromise some way."