The South Carolina lottery should generate $80 million more than the state Board of Economic Advisors expected, and that could help buy school buses, cover scholarship programs or increase public school spending.
Last year, the Board of Economic Advisors projected that the lottery would generate about $173 million during the fiscal year that ends June 30. On Thursday, the board raised that forecast to $253 million as high interest in big Powerball jackpots juiced lottery sales.
"It's absolutely wonderful news," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said. "I'm elated we will have additional moneys to use for what's best for the people in this state."
The legislature had long expected the lottery to generate more. Including a surplus left from the 2003 fiscal year, legislators estimated $215 million in their budget. They agreed to put any remaining money into scholarships.
But there's likely to be plenty left over from that extra $38 million and plenty of ideas on spending it.
Decisions to spend the money could wait for the budget that the full House Ways and Means Committee begins writing next week or could be handled in a supplemental spending bill.
Either way, the extra money could touch off a spending scramble in a cash-strapped General Assembly that's raided trust accounts for the past three years to meet spending obligations.
The Education Department wants more buses.
Two years ago, the Gen-
eral Assembly put $23 million in lottery funds, plus about $3 million from unclaimed prizes, into buying or repairing buses.
The budget spends $8 million in unclaimed lottery prize money on buses, but more buses are needed, said Jim Foster, the state Education Department's spokesman.
"We are driving buses that are 22 years old. ... There's not a school district in the state that can't tell you horror stories about buses breaking down," Foster said.
The earliest any new buses could hit the road would be sometime in 2005, Foster said.
"There's no shortage of places it needs to be spent," Sen. Tom Moore, D-Clearwater, said.
He wants to see the surplus used somehow to increase the amount the state spends on a per-pupil basis in schools.
Gov. Mark Sanford thinks "that surplus lottery dollars go to where the need is greatest," Sanford spokesman Will Folks said. "Clearly that's K- 12" education, Folks said.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, wants more money to go into K-5 reading and math programs.
"If we can get kids reading and doing math on grade level by the fourth or fifth grade, it makes their education that much easier to provide," he said.
In other business, the board agreed not to increase its estimates for how much the state should expect in tax collections. Although the state is generating $57 million more than forecast, board members said that is not enough to change their estimate that the state should collect about $5.5 billion in taxes next year.