Saunders

Perdue's call right on lottery

Staff WriterMarch 12, 2009 

Beverly Perdue is a governor of her word, that's for sure.

Just look at the lottery.

When Perdue cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the lottery bill as lieutenant governor in 2005, the lottery was billed as "the education lottery," with net proceeds to be used only for the state's education needs. That is certainly why some legislators voted for the bill, even if they had to hold their noses while doing so.

Now legislators, both Republican and Democrat, are lambasting Perdue for wanting to use the money for the state's general fund. They should just hush, because in a sense, the former educator really would be using the lottery money for an educational purpose.

Think about it: By seeking to apply lottery money to the state's ballooning deficit, she is teaching everyone that politicians don't always stick to what they say and vote for.

Shocked? Of course you're not.

Last month, when Perdue first hinted at dipping into the lottery proceeds, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, was quoted as saying, "This is exactly what the opponents to the lottery said would happen. And if they continue to bill it as an education lottery, it's a farce."

Opposition to the lottery was bipartisan, but I'm guessing Republican opponents are secretly thrilled that Perdue is reneging on the "education only" pledge that, more than anything else, got what some considered a demonic bill passed in the first place. Wanna bet, though, that any of them in Perdue's position would do the same thing?

If they wouldn't, shame on them -- and we should be glad they're not governor.

The lottery raised $3 billion last year, and prohibiting Perdue from using any of that money in these dire times is like watching your children go hungry on a sunny day because your personal rainy day fund is for literally a rainy day.

Some people -- OK, probably just I -- would compare it to when you go to a pal's house and he forbids you to use the "good towels" after you accidentally cut your mouth while trying to open a beer bottle with your teeth. So what if you bleed to death: Just don't touch those good towels.

To Perdue, governing a state bleeding from a $2 billion gaping deficit wound, that lottery money represents good towels that can be used to stanch the bleeding: That's not what the presumed $88 million she plans to commandeer is there for, but it can be used and is needed for that purpose.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." With the state facing, as reported in The News & Observer last month, a $2 billion deficit this year and possibly $3 billion next year, it would be foolishly consistent for the governor to keep the lottery moolah sacrosanct just because she and other legislators who voted for it said they would.

Expecting a politician in the best of times to keep her or his hands off untapped money is a pipe dream; expecting one to do so in the midst of a recession such as this one is delusional.

Still, Perdue could be gambling with her political future by ignoring the original intent of the lottery money. She must feel that the money will be returned once the state's coffers are flush again. Rolling the dice so early in her term also gives her plenty of time to make amends, to make people forget the lottery money flap by the time the next election rolls around.

If not, her re-election chances could come up snake eyes.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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