Va. routing of lottery funds unconstitutional, senior staff lawyer says
Monday, March 03, 2008
Virginia lawmakers have been violating the state's constitution by failing to route lottery proceeds directly into local education and instead dropping the money into a larger spending pool, a senior staff lawyer said Friday.
The e-mail to Senate Finance Committee members from David Rosenberg, a lawyer with the state's Division of Legislative Services, raises questions about whether the $437 million the lottery raised last fiscal year, and years before it, actually went uninterrupted to its intended recipients.
The state's constitution requires that the money go directly from the Lottery Proceeds Fund to "counties, cities and towns" and their school divisions. Instead, Rosenberg said the legislature has been putting the money into the general fund, which makes up about half the total budget and helps pays for items like public safety and transportation. Democrats argue the money nevertheless reaches local schools.
"Although no court has interpreted this provision of the constitution, in my opinion its plain language requires that the revenues in the Lottery Proceeds Fund be appropriated from the fund to localities for public education and not be deposited into the general fund of the commonwealth," Rosenberg wrote.
Republicans hailed the opinion, which corrects a prior one by the state's legal staff, as validation of their argument about lottery dollars and their "detour" from education.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the Senate this week from approving a budget that re-routed lottery funds, which he said would require an 80 percent vote. He was overruled by the chamber's Democratic majority.
State lawyers originally backed the decision against Bolling and said the use of lottery money was constitutional, arguing that a four-fifths vote wasn't necessary. Bolling said "the current practice is even worse than I first imagined" in light of the new information.
"By failing to create the Lottery Proceeds fund as required by the Constitution, even a four-fifths vote may not have made this practice acceptable," Bolling said. Clearly, this is an issue the General Assembly needs to address and it needs to be addressed now."
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