Under the Dome

Dome: Lottery commissioners question changes to NC lottery spending

jfrank@newsobserver.com rchristensen@newsobserver.com pgannon@ncinsider.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Members of the N.C. Education Lottery Commission this week voiced concerns about recent legislative changes to how lottery proceeds are spent, reports Pat Gannon of The Insider.

While commissioners acknowledged at their quarterly meeting Tuesday that decisions about where the money goes are the General Assembly’s to make, they questioned the changes, including the elimination of the original “50-40-10” formula for distribution of lottery dollars. The former law provided that 50 percent of proceeds would support class size reduction and prekindergarten programs, 40 percent would pay for school construction and 10 percent would fund college and university scholarships. When lawmakers eliminated the formula, they said it had rarely been followed anyway. The new language states simply that net lottery revenues should be used for “education-related purposes.”

During Tuesday’s lengthy discussion, members of the eight-member commission that oversees lottery operations questioned whether lawmakers were steering away from the original intent of the lottery law, which was approved in part because of how the revenue would be spent for education. Commissioners also asked whether lottery proceeds are supplementing or supplanting general fund education dollars, a longstanding question that hasn’t been answered.

“The lottery was sold to the world and sold to the state on the basis that this would create additional funding for North Carolina schools and improve North Carolina schools,” said Commissioner David Kirby of Raleigh.

Commissioner Jody Tyson of Snow Hill said he believed the “greatest injustice” has been reductions in money for school construction. The new budget includes $100 million a year for school construction, about 21 percent of about $480 million in projected lottery revenues for education. Tyson said counties banked on the lottery dollars when they took out loans for school construction and now have to make up the difference with local funding.

“As that formula has been reduced, it has affected every county in this state,” he said. Tyson said the commission should lobby for a new formula, which would require the state to put at least 40 percent of lottery proceeds toward school construction.

In addition to the school construction funding, the current budget provides – from lottery funds – about $221 million for classroom teachers, $76 million for prekindergarten programs, $30 million for scholarships, $11 million for UNC need-based financial aid, $33 million for a UNC need-based financial aid reserve fund and $12 million for digital learning.

Tillis names fundraisers

U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis announced his top fundraisers Thursday, adding familiar North Carolina names to his campaign.

Former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner, former Estonian Ambassador Dave Phillips, Bob Ingram and Harry Smith will lead the House speaker’s finance team. Tillis will need to raise big bucks to win the four-way (for now) Republican primary and compete with incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who has a large campaign war chest.

Tillis’ fundraising during the legislative session led to numerous questions about special interests and board appointments.

Gardner is a former congressman and close ally to Gov. Pat McCrory. Phillips, a High Point businessman, was a former President George W. Bush appointee. Ingram is a venture capitalist and the former CEO and chairman at GlaxoWellcome, a predecessor company to GlaxoSmithKline. Smith is the CEO of the Flanders Corp. and a member of the UNC Board of Governors and state Economic Development Board.

The campaign is raising money Sept. 13 at Jane and Scott Sullivan’s home in Wilmington and holding a series of fundraisers Sept. 18-20 in Winston-Salem, Cornelius and Wallace.

Helms times 100

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday heaped praise on Jesse Helms at a Heritage Foundation lecture named after the late North Carolina senator.

“I’ll tell you something … the very first political contribution I ever made in my life was to Jesse Helms,” Cruz said according to Roll Call newsletter. “When I was a kid, I sent $10 to Jesse Helms, ’cause they were beating up on him, they were coming after him hard and I thought it wasn’t right, and at the time my allowance was 50 cents a week,” the Texas Republican said.

Cruz recalled a story about when Helms received a campaign donation check from actor John Wayne. Cruz said that according to the story, when Helms called Wayne to thank him for the support, the actor said: “You’re that guy saying all those crazy things. We need 100 more like you,’ ”

“The willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It’s every bit as true now as it was then,” Cruz continued. “We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”

Staff writers John Frank and Rob Christensen; Patrick Gannon of the NC Insider.

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