Ecstatic that the GOP members of the House of Representatives in the General Assembly passed a budget honoring their campaign pledge to hold the line on taxes and take an axe to the state budget or enraged that because of their campaign promises over 20,000 state workers, mostly those who work to educate our children and young adults, will be collecting unemployment checks at this time next year.
Despite all that, there was one bit of good news for the taxpayers here…a proposal put forth by Gov. Bev Perdue, and initially supported by House members, to lower the amount of state lottery proceeds sent back to the county for school system capital improvement projects that was beaten back during debate Tuesday night.
When ideas were being offered three months ago on ways to balance the state’s budget, one of the areas some legislators and the governor believed ripe for the picking was the large pile of money generated by folks playing the lottery – those hoping to hit it big.
Ashe has been receiving about $246,000 per year from lottery proceeds. The proposal would have cut that in half.
For the folks here in Ashe, almost overnight a $123,000 hole had potentially opened up in the county budget.
Some counties were probably banking the proceeds, preparing for future construction projects. For them, the proposal, while an inconvenience, might mean delaying a project a few years until the financial ship of state righted itself.
However, if a county, like Ashe, had already moved on obligating current and future lottery proceeds for an immediate capital improvement project, then the proposal would have become an immediate financial impact.
Taking a bet on getting the lottery proceeds, county commissioners issued a $2.9 million bond for four new classrooms at the high school and a new roof at the school’s career center and a new roof on Mountain View Elementary School. Those improvements were to be financed to the tune of approximately $206,000 a year using lottery funds.
When news got out that county taxpayers may be on the hook for approximately $100,000 a year, the amount the county stood to lose if the proposal passed, in no time at all, local officials took swift action.
According to the commission board chairwoman, Judy Poe, a concentrated effort was made to lobby members of the house, including our own representatives, to amend the proposal. It worked.
The message was driven home and Tuesday night a small victory for the taxpayers of Ashe County was achieved when the budget was passed with an amended provision that insured nearly 90 percent of the promised lottery proceeds would come back here or approximately $220,000.
If only we might be as successful saving the jobs of perhaps as many as a dozen local educators when they are facing pink slips in a few weeks.