NC House makes foolish gamble by tying teacher raises to lottery

June 11, 2014 

What’s next for Republican leaders of the state House? It’s a tantalizing question because their ideas, or perhaps that should be notions, about what to do to raise teacher pay are truly strange.

Sorry, but it’s hard to take seriously the House’s pay hike plan for teachers. The House’s proposed budget would give teachers about 5 percent more by boosting advertising for the state lottery. The idea is that more advertising will lure more people into the games, and their losses will become the teachers’ gain.

How is Speaker Thom Tillis going to address other revenue shortfalls? A rabbit out of the hat maybe? Or perhaps he’ll charge for a traveling stage show wherein he saws Gov. Pat McCrory in half.

A good many Republicans and Democrats seemed to be doing a double-take when it came out that the lower chamber’s budget figured to bump lottery advertising to 2 percent of sales instead of 1 percent. With more marketing, officials figure, the lottery would bring in substantially more money. The last fiscal year figure for net proceeds was about $480 million.

First, the good news: The House would not concur with the Senate’s plan to cut teacher assistants or slice 30 percent from the state Department of Public Instruction. It also would not require teachers to surrender their modest form of tenure as the Senate would. All that’s considerably more enlightened than the poor Senate budget.

There are some other things in the House budget unrelated to education that also are enlightened relative to the upper chamber: Thousands of blind, aged, disabled and sick people now eligible for Medicaid would not be kicked off the rolls as they would be in the Senate budget, and the Medicaid office wouldn’t be cut loose from the Department of Health and Human Services.

But the lottery idea seems to be just zany. And for a Republican crowd that acts like it wouldn’t raise taxes if John Dillinger were holding a .45 on them, boosting participation in the lottery would be equivalent to a huge tax increase on people who can least afford it, namely those of lower incomes who tend to play the lottery in disproportionate numbers.

They, ironically, would be the ones stuck with the tab for raising teacher pay, something that should readily and happily be shared by all taxpayers in North Carolina.

What needs to be done is an across-the-board, step-by-step boost in teacher pay to bring the state again at least to the national average. It could be funded by a general sales tax surcharge or by rescinding some of the excess tax breaks lawmakers have instituted. Instead, GOP House leaders would increase an effective tax on the desperation of the poor and leave the future of the state’s K-12 education to chance.

There’s another touch of irony here, too. Tillis concedes that Republicans never would have passed a state lottery to begin with if they’d been in charge in 2005 when it was enacted. But now they’re coming up with even more creative and horribly misguided ways to use lottery money.

Teachers should be paid from a reliable source of money, not have their incomes hostage to a state-sponsored gambling game.

Republicans, with their obsessive tax reductions and shortsighted budget cuts, have backed themselves into a corner, most evident by an anticipated revenue shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And with regard to teacher pay, they now believe, like that individual who buys more lottery tickets than he can afford, that the way out is to gamble for a jackpot.

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