Lottery money adds up to reckless budget

By Paul T. O'Connor | Jun 16, 2014

As the 2014 legislative session opened, a business lobbyist explained the incentives House Speaker Thom Tillis, Republican U.S. Senate nominee, had for seeking quick adjournment.

Among other reasons, Tillis would want to adjourn “before one of his whack-a-doodle members does something crazy.”

Tillis didn’t get out of town in time. And now he’ll spend the next four months explaining away one of the more politically inconsistent proposals to arise in recent memory: the House budget is balanced with $106 million in extra lottery revenue spurred by a doubled lottery advertising budget.

The “whack-a-doodles,” in this case, were Tillis and other House leaders, and that is what is so intriguing about this proposal. How could politicians savvy enough to win control of the N.C. House propose such a politically clumsy proposal?

Republicans may have the only functional political party in the state, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to deepen rifts in their coalition. To win in November, Republicans need the establishment GOP, the Tea Party and the Christian Right, three sometimes distinct, sometimes overlapping, factions.

The lottery proposal is, first and foremost, an affront to the Christian Right. These social conservatives led Republican opposition to the lottery before it was approved in 2005 and were upset earlier this month when Republicans weakened their anti-gambling platform during their state convention at the Cherokee casino.

More lottery advertising should lead to more lottery playing. But maybe not, says Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a leading social conservative.

Stam put language in the budget requiring more truthful lottery advertising, language about odds and payouts that he hopes will reduce lottery purchases.

So, Republicans have projected $106 million in extra lottery money while also including an advertising provision designed to keep that money from ever materializing. And two days after the House released its budget, lottery officials projected they will raise only half of that new lottery money in Fiscal 2015.

That’s reckless budgeting, and establishment Republicans don’t like it, especially so soon after the recent tax changes created massive revenue shortfalls and uncertainty about next year’s budget.

The Tea Party loves the idea, on one hand, because it provides teacher raises without higher taxes. And if it leads to a revenue shortfall, they will just cut government some more. But the budget in its entirety must concern the tea drinkers because it shows that Tillis is already moving to the middle after he shifted right to win the nomination.

Democrats are apoplectic about the proposal, saying it balances the budget on the backs of the poor. But Democrats don’t count.

Republican senators do, however, and they just chuckled at the lottery revenue proposal. They knowthey can wait out the House in budget negotiations because they’re in no rush to leave, as is Tillis.

Tillis didn’t stand his ground for long on the lottery idea. It is up for negotiation, he said, when the budget conference committee meets to find a compromise between the widely different House and Senate budgets.