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Virginia’s lottery receipts are supposed to boost funding for schools. Instead, the annual $450 million goes everywhere but.
A quarter-century ago, Virginians approved a state lottery on the implicit promise that the money would be added to school coffers. For a while, lawmakers did that. But, as The Pilot’s Elisabeth Hulette recounted recently, the economy worsened and Richmond started diverting the money to other uses.
It was a basic bait and switch - promising one thing and delivering another. By 2000, the diversion so aggravated Virginians that they approved a constitutional amendment to devote all the lottery money to education.
The spirit was as loud and clear as voters can make it: Spend the lottery money on our kids. But the letter of the amendment created a loophole lawmakers immediately walked through.
Lawmakers found a slick dodge: They could devote the lottery’s receipts to the schools while cutting spending on education, as if lottery dollars were somehow different from tax dollars.
It was like robbing Peter to pay Peter. It was like depositing a check while using an ATM to withdraw the same amount and wondering why your balance doesn’t rise.
At first, state lawmakers replaced only some of the school tax dollars with lottery dollars. Today, they’ve replaced them all.
That dodge allows the lottery to continue bragging about “Helping Virginia’s Public Schools,” without technically being wrong. They could more accurately brag about “Helping Virginia’s Lawmakers Avoid Tough Choices,” or “Replacing Tax Dollars since 1987.”
Lottery officials through the years have taken umbrage at the assertion that their games don’t boost education funding. That’s because helping schools gives people permission to spend money on games they are bound to lose. It’s part of the Virginia Lottery’s identity, part of its implicit argument that gambling is OK if the schools benefit.
But they don’t, at least not to anything like the degree they should.
And that’s news Virginians need to know, including those who find a couple of extra bucks in a tight household budget to spend on the lottery, a search made just a bit easier by the mistaken notion that they’re helping the schools.
Landmark News Service