by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
"This goes a long way toward solving our problems," House Speaker Jim Black said of the North Carolina Education Lottery when legislation establishing it passed the House in 2005.
And a decade later, school funding issues have really receded into the background of North Carolina politics. The state lottery was indeed the cronyism that saved the day.
Readers of the previous paragraph should be thankful to the writer for quickening their minds, as research has found that "sarcasm seems to exercise the brain more than sincere statements do," and by extension, exposure to sarcasm makes your brain sharper.
What the lottery has done, however, is confirm the worries that it would lead to supplanting education spending rather than supplementing it, and that it would take advantage of the state’s poorest and most desperate citizens.
In 2007, Joseph Coletti looked at county lottery sales per adult and found that sales were higher in the most economically distressed counties. Among his findings: "Property tax rates, unemployment, and poverty rates are the best guides to a county’s lottery sales per adult."
My study of 2010 found the same dynamic still in play. This matters because, as I wrote,
the lottery is also a state funding source that many North Carolinians find immoral, out of either religious belief or concern for social justice or both. Perceived immorality of the lottery is no small concern given that it is a state monopoly; i.e., something endorsed and promoted under the aegis of the State of North Carolina, whose name it bears.
For the John Locke Foundation’s forthcoming Agenda 2014 policy booklet, I decided to look again at county lottery sales per adult against their poverty and unemployment rates, median household incomes, and property tax rates. The situation sadly remains the same:
Poverty, unemployment, and property tax rates are still reliable predictors of a county’s lottery sales. Nine of the top ten counties in lottery sales per adult were among the most economically distressed counties in the state.
Furthermore, at approximately $486 per adult, lottery sales in those counties were two and a half times higher than in the 20 most economically well-off (Tier Three) counties in the state ($195 per adult). The median household income in the top lottery counties was only 69 percent of the median household income in the Tier Three counties.
The education lottery has not "gone a long way toward solving our problems," as was promised. It seems it has gone out of its way to create more problems overall.
The lottery functions now as a visible contributor to education funding, which would be the sole aspect that makes it seem politically irreplaceable. Its net effect appears negative — even before you factor in other issues in society beyond dollars for education.
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