Lottery myth exposed for 'Curious' readers

The belief that revenue raised by lottery sales was intended to defray the cost of providing a public education has been among the most persistent myths surrounding Connecticut governance. When in casual conversation the topics of taxing and the cost of education come up they are often accompanied by the question, “Wasn’t the lottery supposed to pay for that?”

Shame on us, perhaps, but that cooler talk never led us to generate a news story on the topic, at least not in recent history.

That’s why we are excited about CuriousCT. This online tool gives us another way to find out what is of concern to our readers. On theday.com we will regularly give our readers a chance to submit questions about things they would like the answers to. From the list we will pick out a few questions for readers to vote on, deciding what they want our reporters to dig into.

In our first round Gregg Landry issued a challenge: “Supposedly, money generated from the lottery goes to a general fund to assist schools, etc. I would like to see money that has made its way to any local schools from the lottery.”

Turns out many of you wanted to know whether that money was helping the schools because Gregg’s question was selected for our first CuriousCT reporting effort, with veteran Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck digging into it. You can read Brian’s story in Monday’s print edition or on our website.

It turns out that for a very brief moment there was a tenuous tie between the lottery and public education. From 1975 to 1977, in the lottery’s infancy, revenue from the first scratch-off game funded education grants to municipal school systems.

After that time, however, the revenue from lottery sales was directed to the general fund, which pays state expenses and provides funding for towns and cities, primarily for local public education.

So yes, our reporting found, that money you spend on losing lottery tickets does help pay for education, but not directly, and it is not a major factor. The state sends nearly $2 billion to cities and towns for education, roughly 10 percent of all state spending.

By way of comparison, the Connecticut Lottery Corp. last fiscal year raised $345 million for the state, the revenue left after money for winnings, salaries, promotion and other costs for the program is expended. That equals about 20 percent of the revenue the state sends to towns and cities for public education, not an insignificant amount.

But another $9 billion is spent on education in Connecticut, raised largely by local property taxation. That drops the lottery contribution to 3 percent, even if it was being directly used to pay for education, which it is not.

So, while the lottery and other fees and revenues might help some, it is taxes that largely pay for our schools.

Dedicated funds — collecting this tax to pay for that expense — are tricky things in state government. The state legislature, when it decides money is needed elsewhere, can always divert it, unless the state Constitution says otherwise. This is why our editorials long advocated for a constitutional amendment requiring that transportation-related assessments — primarily the gas tax but potentially in the future to include toll collections — be used solely to meet the state’s transportation needs and the upgrading of its outdated and maintenance-starved transportation system.

Voters, to their credit, did just that when in November they approved such a constitutional amendment to create a transportation fund lockbox.

It may be disappointing to learn that the revenue from the lottery tickets you buy won’t ever be the answer to paying for public education, but at least you now have a level of certainty that the gas tax you pay when you fill up the car during the same visit will help meet transportation needs.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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