Silly me. I really thought that every state's lottery operation was walled off from the rest of its finances. They collect bets, pay out winnings and administrative costs, and turn over the profits to general fund. End of discussion. No muss, no fuss. Right?
In Illinois, based on recent developments, we know that's obviously not the case — leading me to wonder how many other states potentially have the same problem the Land of Lincoln currently has. You see, the state is about to move into the third month of a budget standoff between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and its Democrat-controlled state legislature. As a result, because the lottery's operations are at least in a legal sense commingled with the rest of the state's finances, its comptroller has been forced to cancel payouts of lottery winnings greater than $25,000. It appears that very few media outlets outside of Illinois are interested in covering this obviously important story. Why?
Three paragraphs in the Chicago Tribune, which has one of the most comprehensive stories on the mess, would seem to explain why there hasn't been much national press coverage:
Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse
After years of struggling financially, Susan Rick thought things were looking up when her boyfriend won $250,000 from the Illinois Lottery last month. She could stop working seven days a week, maybe fix up the house and take a trip to Minnesota to visit her daughter.
But because Illinois lawmakers have not passed a budget, she and her boyfriend, Danny Chasteen, got an IOU from the lottery instead.
"For the first time, we were finally gonna get a break," said Rick, who lives in Oglesby. "And now the Illinois Lottery has kind of messed everything up."
... Under state law, the state comptroller must cut the checks for lottery winnings of more than $25,000. And lottery officials said that because lawmakers have yet to pass a budget, the comptroller's office does not have legal authority to release the funds.
... While Rossi said winners will eventually receive their money once a budget is in place, the promise is cold comfort for Rick.
"You know what's funny? If we owed the state money, they'd come take it and they don't care whether we have a roof over our head," Rick said. "Our budget wouldn't be a factor. You can't say (to the state), 'Can you wait until I get my budget under control?'"
... Rossi would not speculate on what effect the delays might have on the lottery's revenues if people choose to stop playing until the state resolves the budget crisis, and he was not aware of any effort to pass a special measure to allow the comptroller to pay out winnings while lawmakers and the governor haggle over the budget.
... if the delays stretch on indefinitely, Smith said, word will spread — especially if it affects people who play regularly.
"If that news just continues to go viral, and it goes back to their neighborhoods and people are talking about it, I think it could have an impact," Smith said. "And even if it affects sales by a percent or two, that's bad for the lottery."
If you're in the leftist press and you see the completely justified resentment displayed in the excerpt's first bolded paragraph, you realize that you don't want to get too many quotes from winners who are being stiffed. Susan Rick's sentiment is exactly what Tea Party and other protesters have been saying for years about heavy-handed governments exercising their will without consequences and taking care of their cronies, while the little people are the first to get stiffed while being held to most nitpicky standards of everyday conduct.
If you're in the leftist press, you're going to swallow really hard at the implications of the second and third bolded paragraphs. What would happen if millions of people decided (better word: learned) that they can't even trust their state lotteries to do what they're supposed to do? I don't think I'm the only one who naively believed that they were walled off from other state operations, even in historically corrupt Illinois.
If the number of bettors and the amounts they bet start to decline significantly over the long haul, several states already on the brink — Illinois is certainly one of them — would be right up against the bankruptcy wall. Additionally, several states now thought to be in decent fiscal condition no longer would be. Government would either have to get smaller, or the states would have try to go to the well for even more taxes. The press knows that the public in most places is in no mood for the latter, which, because of balanced-budget laws, would force the former to take place.
Thus, from the press's perspective, it's best not to report what's going on in Illinois, or to at least try as much as possible to keep people from taking an interest in it.
The Associated Press has a brief five-paragraph item at its national site whose headline ("LOTTERY WINNERS DON'T GET LARGESSE, BUT GET LEFT OUT") is in my view deliberately incoherent. A relevant Google News search returns stories which are predominantly local in origin.
The larger lesson here is that we must assume in the absence of definitive contrary evidence that governments at all levels run every program on a hand-to-mouth basis, and that the politicians will attempt to raid any money present anywhere else to paper over their problems. The biggest federal examples: Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare. The biggest state-managed example: Medicaid. A common local example: bloated school districts which routinely paid underqualified and sometimes incompetent administrators six-figure salaries while starving their classrooms.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.