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The Daily Tar Heel

Student Offers Solution To State Budget Crisis: Institute a N.C. Lottery

The editorial page of The Daily Tar Heel made an excellent point in its editorial "Cutting Damage" on April 8.

In spite of the state's current $900 million budget shortfall, education and specifically the UNC system need to be protected.

The UNC system is an investment in the future and budget cuts, even in this desperate time, are short-sighted and in the long run a poor choice for North Carolina. However, the DTH offered no alternative as to where the state could find the funds to replace that which it so persuasively argued should not come from the UNC system.

I would like to offer a possible solution to this aspect of the state's budget conundrum. What North Carolina needs is a lottery.

Currently, 37 out of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia have instituted a state lottery and are reaping the benefits. In my home state of Virginia, the lottery netted the state $336.7 million in the last fiscal year out of a total sales of over $1 billion.

Even after all the prizes had been paid out, the operational costs had been covered and the retailers had taken their cut, $336.7 million was turned over to the state.

That does not even take into account the 4 percent tax that the state levies on the over $500 million paid out in winnings last year.

Also keep in mind that, according to the 2000 Census, Virginia has 1 million less people than North Carolina, so one could expect that North Carolina could make even more per year than Virginia does. Reasonably, North Carolina could expect to net about $350 million dollars a year if it established a lottery.

That money would clearly make up a significant amount of North Carolina's budget shortfall. In Virginia, all lottery proceeds are spent on education; much of it dispersed to the various local school districts.

North Carolina could do the same and devote all proceeds to education, but even if it did not, the extra money would certainly allow the state to prevent the cuts in education that are currently being considered.

Inexplicably it seems North Carolina is passing on the chance to safeguard education and reduce the looming budget shortfall by over a third.

So why doesn't North Carolina have a lottery yet? The most common argument against a state lottery is that gambling leads to increased crime. However, according to the FBI, in 1999, North Carolina had the 18th highest violent crime rate in the country.

That puts it well ahead of a plethora of states that have lotteries, including Virginia, which ranked 37th in violent crime. For many people, especially it seems members of the N.C. General Assembly, lotteries conjure up images of seedy casinos filled with violent criminals.

In fact, a state lottery more closely resembles scratch off games and promotions which many businesses and restaurant chains run, in which you can win one million dollars by scratching off a box of French fries.

The weakness of the "lottery leads to increased crime" argument is exposed by the facts on crime, which show no correlation between state lotteries and increased crime.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the state lottery debate is that even as North Carolina tries to squeeze every part of the state budget, including the higher education system where the state's future leaders are being educated, North Carolinians are still gambling in state lotteries.

It is estimated that in 1999 North Carolinians poured $86.5 million into Virginia's coffers by buying Virginia state lottery tickets.

With South Carolina also starting a lottery even more of North Carolina's money will be lost as a result of the backward leadership of the state's leaders.

It is time for North Carolina to get in step with the second millennium and for the state's leaders to seriously look at other options for raising revenue before the state's most precious commodity, its education system is short shrift. By refusing to institute a state lottery North Carolina's leaders are gambling with the leaders of the future.

Andrew Wagner

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