Sep 24, 2003, 4:00 am
To hear lawmakers tell it, talk in the coffee shops often goes like this: "Whatever happened to all that lottery money?"
Voters authorized a state lottery in 1990, and some mistakenly thought they voted to spend the money to support public schools.
"The general public always asks, 'What happened to that money? What happened to that lottery money?' " said state Sen. Chris Ullo, D-Harvey. "It has been a very consistent message."
Voters will weigh in on the issue Oct. 4. Constitutional amendment No. 9 would require that all the state's share of lottery proceeds support public schools.
Even if voters approve the ballot measure, it will not produce any windfalls for public schools.
As a practical matter, even though it is not required, most lottery dollars already help support public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The ballot measure would simply put that practice into the state constitution and end chances that lawmakers will spend it elsewhere.
"If you truly want to lock the proceeds of the lottery into education, it really needs to be in the constitution," said Rep. Rick Farrar, D-Pineville, and House sponsor of the measure in the Legislature.
The state collected $111 million in lottery revenue for the financial year that ended June 30.
Ticket sales have raised $1.4 billion for the state since 1991, lottery officials said.
Public schools get all the state's share except for $500,000, which is used to help combat compulsive gambling.
The lottery proceeds account for a relatively small part of the $2.5 billion that the state is spending this year in basic school aid.
Farrar says part of the problem stems from the way the original lottery proposal was touted in 1990.
"It was sold as a cure for education needs," he said. "Everywhere I have gone I hear that" What happened to that lottery money?"
Early legislative versions of the 1990 lottery plan required all the money to go to public schools.
That restriction was later removed. Lawmakers generally oppose what they call the dedication of state funds, or requirements that money can only be spent in a certain way.
The Council for a Better Louisiana opposes the ballot measure for just that reason.
"We don't think we need to be adding more dedications to the constitution, which we already have an abundance of," said Barry Erwin, president of the group.
Erwin said if voters approve the measure, it could hurt education.
"It will probably send a message that we have taken care of education when it really will have no impact," he added.
Farrar said that, in general, he does not favor rules that spell out how state dollars must be spent.
Many voters, he said, thought state leaders pledged that public schools would be the sole beneficiaries of the lottery.
"It was promised, but it didn't happen," he said.
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