North Carolina Governor Mike Easley kicked off budget negotiations with House and Senate leaders by pushing for an aggressively advertised lottery that he would clearly control.
"The governor indicated that he would like to change some of the lottery language, and that's something we'd have to speak to the members about," House Speaker Jim Black said early Thursday, just after passage of the House's $17 billion budget proposal.
A lottery proposal that narrowly passed the House in April only allows lottery advertising at the locations where the tickets are sold. It devotes the proceeds to school construction, college scholarships and other unspecified education projects. It sets up a nine-member lottery commission and gives Senate leader Marc Basnight, Black and Easley -- all Democrats -- three slots to fill.
Black said Easley wants a lottery with more advertising and money dedicated to the governor's education initiatives, such as the More at Four pre-kindergarten program and reduced class sizes. Black also said Easley wants a majority of the appointments to the commission.
An Easley spokeswoman confirmed that the governor is talking about the lottery as part of budget negotiations.
"As you know, the governor supports an education lottery with the funding going to reduced class size, pre-k and school construction," said Sherri Johnson, Easley's press secretary.
Black didn't say whether he would go along with the governor's requests. But he has repeatedly warned against tinkering with the House's proposal. It was the first time in modern history the House had passed a lottery proposal, and it squeaked by with just two votes.
Normally, the lottery would not become a part of budget talks. But the Senate embedded changes to the House lottery proposal in the Senate's budget proposal. Those changes would reshape the lottery more to Easley's liking, since it shifts some of the money to More at Four and class size reduction, opens it up to more advertising and gives Easley five slots on the commission. It also doesn't fund college scholarships.
The advertising component may create the biggest debate. The House version so limits advertising that multistate, mega-jackpot games like Mega Millions and Powerball would be excluded. Black and other House members have been adamant about not subjecting North Carolinians to get-rich-quick lottery campaigns.
Senate Republicans and most House Republicans voted against each chamber's respective lottery provision. But they and a handful of Democratic opponents face a tough battle in keeping North Carolina from becoming the 41st state to run a lottery.
The Senate's budget insert "keeps the whole lottery issue on the table throughout the whole budget process," said John Rustin, a lobbyist for the N.C. Family Policy Council, a lottery opponent.
Tony Rand, the Senate majority leader from Fayetteville, said he thinks there are enough votes in the Senate to pass a lottery.