N.C. Construction to Get Lottery Money

Fri October 02, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Gary D. Robertson - Associated Press




RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Gov. Beverly Perdue said that county governments would receive nearly $38 million in lottery funds earmarked for school construction that she held back six months ago to manage the state’s budget woes.

The money, generated from profits by the North Carolina Education Lottery, had been intercepted by Perdue along with several hundred million dollars from other dedicated pots of public funds to ensure she could pay state expenses. Perdue ended up having to close a $3.2 billion shortfall for the year ending June 30.

“I had to turn over every stone to pay North Carolina’s bills — to pay teachers, to keep schools and other core services running,’’ Perdue said in a statement.

Now that the books are closed on last fiscal year, Perdue said there was money left over so she could release the $37.6 million in construction funds to support school districts in all 100 counties, from $3.9 million for Wake County to $14,052 to Hyde County.

Perdue made the announcement at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners in Hickory, where members gave her a rousing applause.

The decision is another among others that shows Perdue “is committed to working with counties and really trying to form a partnership with counties,’’ association spokesman Todd McGee said.

The delay had forced many counties to look elsewhere for construction funds.

In Beaufort County, which is expected to receive $158,092, the holdback forced the county leaders to delay purchases on computer servers and other equipment so it could find money to pay down $33 million in school construction bonds.

“We had to make some crucial cut to services in the county,’’ assistant county manager Jim Chrisman said. “The county’s really happy [now] because the state and the governor realized the initial intention of these [lottery] funds to begin with.’’

Perdue took criticism for seizing lottery funds and an additional $50 million from a lottery reserve fund because the General Assembly approved the lottery in 2005 with the understanding the money would go only to education programs.

Perdue said during last year’s gubernatorial campaign that she wanted to take extra steps to ensure profits from the North Carolina Education Lottery were spent solely on education.

The $50 million reserve has not been returned, Perdue spokesman David Kochman said, but lawmakers reimbursed the Public School Textbook Fund for another $50 million that Perdue decided to take in February when faced with state cash flow problems.

Perdue also took money from the state’s “rainy day’’ reserve fund, which had nearly $800 million, to deal with this past year’s shortfall.

Perdue’s budget troubles aren’t over. A $19 billion spending plan for this year was signed into law just recently. But her budget office already said it will hold back 5 percent of money allocated to state agencies because of uncertainty of the state’s economy.