It's our only option for raising money for schools.
These were the arguments lobbed across the floor of the N.C. House on April 6, in support of House Bill 1023, "The State Lottery Act."
Lawmakers from border counties told horror stories of visiting convenience stores across the state line whose parking lots brimmed with First in Flight plates while their owners bought scratch-offs, sodas and gas, the proceeds of which are lost to the coffers of North Carolina, now landlocked by lotteries.
"Why should we be building schools for other states?" asked Robeson County Democrat Ronnie Sutton.
Durham Democrat Mickey Michaux argued that since the Legislature has refused to raise the minimum wage or drop the sales tax--two measures that would help economically challenged North Carolinians--that it was pointless to argue a lottery would hurt the poor. Besides, Michaux pointed out, the state already oversees another vice industry.
"We're in the liquor business, too. What're you going to do about that?" he said.
Even though, as one vociferous opponent pointed out, most of the proponent's points wouldn't pass muster with your mother, they proved the winning ticket for state-sponsored gambling.
In a rush one critic called "bad public policymaking at breakneck speed," a narrow margin of House members made North Carolina history by passing a lottery proposal just hours after a special ad-hoc committee brought it forward.
"Twenty-five years from today, you can tell your grandkids what you did for education," pronounced Rep. Bernard Allen (D-Wake), one of the four bill sponsors and a former educator.
Gov. Mike Easley, the "education governor" who watched the House thwart his pro-lottery agenda for his entire first term, hit the numbers jackpot in the opening legislative session of term two, raking in a 61-59 vote for a bill he says will generate $400 million a year for school construction, college scholarships and other education-related expenses.
Several lawmakers in the "aye" column had previously opposed a lottery, including Speaker Jim Black (D-Mecklenberg) and Rep. Joe Hackney, a powerful Chatham-Orange Democrat.
Some who voted yes even said afterward they still opposed a lottery in principle but were convinced by Easley's oft-repeated argument that it was the only way to fund the state's school needs. Well, that, combined with a little executive-level arm-twisting.
Rep. Deborah Ross, a two-term progressive Democrat from Wake County and former director of the state's ACLU, told The News & Observer she caved only after realizing there was no hope of enough votes to raise taxes for education--and after Easley offered support for one of her own bills, a plan aimed at raising salaries of the lowest-paid state workers.
"This is the last resort; I hate the lottery," she told the newspaper.
Rep. Paul Miller (D-Durham), summed up some opponents' points with this comment from the floor: "What kind of message do we tell our public when we say easy money is an investment in education?"
The debate now moves to the Senate, which has long been considered more hospitable to a lottery proposal. Opponents--a diverse coalition of progressives and conservatives who often clash on other political issues--say they will focus their efforts across the hall.