Oregon’s lottery is the product of hard times, a move by the citizens of Oregon to boost economic development during the depths of the recession of the early 1980s. It offered then, and does today, a lesson in just what’s wrong with segregating tax dollars for specific uses and no others.
In the beginning, lottery proceeds were to be used for economic development and nothing more. Since then, voters have added education, fish and wildlife habitat restoration and state parks to the list of lottery fund recipients.
Counties receive some of the money set aside for economic development, although some of the money is used for social service programs counties are required by law to provide. County officials argue that helping those in financial trouble get back on their feet is, in fact, economic development.
That logic and those expenditures do raise eyebrows, however, and state Rep. Patrick Sheehan, R-Clackamas, doesn’t believe the laws governing the lottery allow for that kind of spending — though that might well be a matter of who is doing the reading. Sheehan attempted to clarify the situation in the 2011 Legislature, but the resulting law has done little to change the situation.
Meanwhile, however, counties’ problem remain: they must provide services that leaders say they do not have enough money to provide.
County officials clearly believe they have an obligation to the community’s neediest citizens, a sentiment we cannot dispute. Were lottery dollars handed out and not dedicated to specific kinds of spending, no one would question their decisions. The problem lies in the fact that lottery dollars cannot be spent where officials believe they will do the most good, not in the fact that those officials have identified a real need and have channeled the lottery funds toward it.
Sheehan might well attempt further clarification during the 2013 Legislature, he says. That’s a worthy goal, but the lesson remains: Dedicating funds to specific causes ties the hands of lawmakers at all levels and prevents those we elect from serving Oregonians in ways that will do the most good.
– Wescom News Service (The Bend Bulletin)
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