I may have promised I'd never write another lottery post, but the recent news about the shortfall in gambling revenues cannot go unnoticed. North Carolina is facing a potential $200 million problem around funding education because not enough good people in our state have been seduced by the siren song of easy money.
Even as players lined up across North Carolina last week to drop their dollars on chances at a big Powerball jackpot, officials acknowledged the new state lottery has a $200 million problem. Overall sales for the games' first fiscal year are expected to miss the goal by at least that much, adding significant financial pressure to education programs that the lottery was created in 2005 to support.
With half the fiscal year over, officials have blamed lower-than-expected sales on months of small Powerball prizes, high gas prices, a tight economy -- even the chemical fire in suburban Apex last year.
"It's up to the people now," lottery director Tom Shaheen said in an interview. "It really is. And they're either going to play or they're not going to play."
That's great, Shaheen. You got your big bonus for slamming the lottery into place in record time. And now you're making excuses - blaming everything except the fundamental idiocy of your chosen business - for coming up short.
The shortfall will be felt. Instead of returning $425 million to education in the first year, the lottery is expected to bring in closer to $350 million for those efforts. Legislators and the Easley administration haven't outlined how they will deal with the shortfall.
"It's too early to panic," said Dan Gerlach, Easley's senior budget adviser.
Too early to panic? I suggest that permanent panic may be in order. Because this sorry situation is the inevitable consequence of policy makers who don't have the backbone to fund public services honestly. Everyone from Easley on down have bet the education of our children on the willingness of citizens to pour their hard-earned money into bullshit games of chance.
Could it be that the people of North Carolina are smarter than their so-called leaders? Sure looks that way to me.
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