RALEIGH, N.C. — State Senate lawmakers on Wednesday had a heated discussion during a budget meeting on a House proposal to use significantly more money from the N.C. Education Lottery to boost teacher salaries, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Some lambasted a provision in the House plan that would restrict the way lottery advertising money may be used and others opposed altogether the idea of sustaining teacher salaries on more lottery money. Meanwhile, Alice Garland, the executive director of the lottery, said that lottery sales would fall significantly short of the estimates in the House budget because of the restrictions.
The discussion comes as the state House and Senate have proposed competing plans over the past few weeks to raise teacher salaries, as years of salary freezes have made North Carolina’s compensation schedule one of the worst in the U.S.
The Senate proposal would boost salaries by an average of 11 percent, dismantle job protections known as career status and significantly reduce money for teacher assistants.
The House proposal would boost teacher salaries 5 percent but would not dismantle job protections or reduce money for teacher assistants. While lottery sales already help finance teacher salaries, the House plan would rely on much more money from the lottery by allowing the N.C. Education Lottery Commission to increase its advertising budget.
For the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, the Senate’s proposal would cost about $12.8 million and more than 300 jobs. The House budget would cost the district about $2.2 million, according to district figures.
But, as Garland said during the meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the House plan uses dubious math because it puts restrictions on how that increased ad budget could be spent.
For example, she said the lottery commission would not be permitted to buy top-tier advertising programming during college athletic events that the N.C. Education Lottery currently is allowed to buy.
“To try to get the same number of eyes and the number of viewers to see that ad, we would have to purchase about three times the amount of time to make up for the loss of being able to advertise during college athletics. Again, spending more money to receive the same value is a completely inefficient way to spend your money,” Garland said.
With the additional advertising budget, House lawmakers estimated that lottery sales would be boosted by $106 million. The estimate, Garland said, does not adequately factor in the restrictions. She estimated that the restrictions would reduce the number by about $47 million.
“We will not be able to hit $106 million with their restrictions,” Garland said.
Garland’s presentation set off a flurry of pointed remarks from senators about the House plan.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Archdale, seemed to support the House’s idea of using a significantly larger amount of lottery money for teacher salaries but opposed the method.
“To send a budget over like this, putting something as important as teachers raises on lottery receipts and then cutting your arm off on how to raise this money – you either want to defeat the lottery and get rid of it, or make it ineffective, or you’re not serious about teacher raises.
“You cannot reduce your revenue from the lottery with these silly advertising restrictions. … Whether you’re for the lottery or not, that’s not the question. The question is now: Let’s make it work,” Tillman said.
Unlike Tillman, more senators expressed opposition to the House plan because of its increased reliance on lottery sales.
“Gambling on teacher raises off a gambling entity is not a wise budget decision,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said it would be “an absolute disaster” to base teacher salaries on lottery sales because, in his view, the lottery hurts the economy by competing for the “disposable incomes of working families” that would otherwise go to the private sector.
“Using this (lottery) as a source of money for ongoing government expenses is really not a good business decision,” Rucho said.
Democratic Sen. Joel Ford of Mecklenburg County also opposed the House plan.
“It’s very, very difficult, in my opinion, to gamble on gambling to pay teachers. To me it’s fiscally irresponsible, and I don’t know how you get the consistency out of it unless you, ma’am (Garland), can share with me with some certainty that based upon your financial model you will be able to predict these kinds of returns on a consistent basis,” Ford said.
Discussions on teacher salaries will continue as legislative fiscal researchers are scheduled to present their own estimates by the end of the week.