Wicker disappointed in use of lottery funds

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Given the issues Lee County Schools and the Lee County government are having with changes to lottery funding at the state level, one local politician says he wishes people had just listened to him — or at least his idea for the lottery — a decade ago.

Dennis Wicker, a Sanford native and former lieutenant governor, ran against Mike Easley in 2000 for the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. Easley went on to win that primary and then the general election.

Among other items, Easley pushed a state-sponsored lottery that would fund public education under a formula that the General Assembly could determine.

The lottery was a hot topic in their primary, Wicker said, with both men espousing very different plans. The plan the General Assembly eventually enacted under Easley provided for 50 percent of the funds to go to hiring educators, 40 percent for construction and 10 percent for college scholarships for low-income students.

Wicker said his plan was to split the money between college scholarships and N.C. pre-K programs, and to put the formula into the state constitution instead of handing it over to the legislature. And now that the legislature has broken the spending formula for the past several years — and finally re-wrote it altogether this summer — Wicker said he wishes Easley had taken his suggestion.

"I've always felt, even before what they did this summer, that the way the proceeds were structured was not a prudent way to divide them up," Wicker said. "... The General Assembly has been tinkering with it since the lottery has come into play."

Wicker said he believes the legislature is "using it for supplanting, just like I predicted when I ran."

"That is a disappointment to me, of course, and I think public education is going to continue to suffer because of it. ... [Schools] need reliable streams of funding," he said.

The main problem with the lottery, he said, is that while some special interests were deeply interested in how the lottery funding would be used — educators on one side; those morally opposed to gambling on the other side — most people simply didn't give it much thought. They just wanted to be able to play, Wicker said, and still don't mind what happens with the proceeds.

However, he said, it's not too late to take a second look at making the formula harder to tweak or disregard by putting it into the state constitution — especially given both parties' recent history when it comes to the lottery.

"Every red penny would have to go to those two programs [college scholarships and pre-K]," Wicker said. "They'd be earmarked for those two programs, and the legislature couldn't mess with it."