Hypocrisy and willful blindness make a bad mix, especially in North Carolina budget writing. The Republican dominated legislature, which has run roughshod over the state’s former progressive reputation for the past two years, has been searching for ways to make up for some of its ill-conceived tax cuts that have led to state-wide outrage over low teacher salaries and an exodus of educators to states that pay significantly more. Recruiters from as far away as Houston, Texas have been both active and successful in luring teachers away — and with salaries that are 25 percent or more higher, it’s not that hard to convince young teachers that Texas might be worth a try.
Both houses, recognizing the huge backlash, are belatedly promising raises for teachers. The Senate wants to do it by making teachers’ jobs harder and less secure: by cutting the number of teacher assistants and requiring teachers to give up tenure. The House has decided to fund a smaller raise by doubling the advertising budget for the North Carolina “Education” lottery, anticipating an increase in revenue.
That move is not only dumb and dumber, but intensely hypocritical. It’s hypocritical because conservative leaders opposed the lottery with a passion when it was first approved, and rightly so — but now they want to promote it. The lottery is, in effect, a regressive tax on poor and middle class people who aren’t good at math. It was billed as a way to supplement education funding, but — as anyone could have guessed — has become a primary funding source.
N.C. legislators have already shifted much of the tax burden from businesses and the wealthy to poor and middle class folk by cutting taxes for upper incomes and business interests, while instituting new sales taxes that impact lower income folk more heavily, percentage-wise, than wealthier families.
Doubling the lottery’s advertising budget just increases the anticipated take from poor people. While approving the measure, however, the House included what could be a poison pill: House leader Paul Stam — who has remained consistent in opposing state-sponsored gambling — added language to the bill that will require lottery advertisements to include the actual size of cash payouts, the value of the lowest prizes, and clearly display the long odds of winning. Stam hopes the new restrictions will discourage gambling and eventually lead to the lottery’s demise, but others who previously opposed the lottery they now love are betting that hopeful gamblers will continue to ignore the discouraging odds and continue paying voluntary taxes.
Few things in the state budget are more important than education. The people who teach our children have one of the hardest jobs around, and they deserve to make a decent wage. There are many better options for increasing revenue than by cutting other needed programs — or by putting a tax on hope.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.