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Publisher's Gallery: Illinois budgeteers might consider this solution to the state's budget crisis

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I have the answer to Illinois' budget woes and it's quite simple, really. 

The state should win its own lottery. 

After all, according to the lottery's Web site (www.illinoislottery.com), ?You don't have to be good with numbers to play the lottery.?

There you have it. Considering the budget shortfall facing Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich and the newest Statehouse crew ? a shortfall some estimate at $3 billion next fiscal year ? it's apparent Illinois hasn't been good with numbers for a while, which falls right in line with the lottery's description of what it takes to be a lottery player.

And it's not like the state is a stranger to scandal. So putting the fix into the ping-pong balls shouldn't garner any bigger headlines than we're used to seeing, although it's feasible the ping-pong ball makers might take offense at compromising the integrity of their product. However, we should point out to these folks that, were it not for lotteries, there would be little market for ping-pong balls because nobody really plays ping-pong anymore, not even on ESPN2. 

One could argue the state already is getting its beak wet in the lottery's pool of money. True enough. According to the lottery Web site, ?By law, all lottery profits are deposited into the state's Common School Fund supporting kindergarten through 12th grade public education. Illinois students and schoolrooms receive nearly $600 million per year in lottery revenue ? about 9.6 percent of the state's annual contribution to K-12 education.?

Despite that, there is no ignoring the fact that the state still needs to balance its checkbook. And we have to go where the money is.

We could look to past lottery winners to help lighten the load. Considering that the lottery has created more than 1,000 millionaires in its history, it wouldn't seem unreasonable to ask each to give back, say, $1 million apiece, although I would anticipate some phone cost overruns as state officials listened patiently while the winners fell to the floor laughing. Still, that would raise a billion dollars right there, and we'd be well on our way. 

Naturally, you have to give the millionaires something in return, because nobody in their right mind would hand back a million bucks, especially to those who have demonstrated a preference for red ink over black ink. 

Speaking strictly for me, here's what I'd want for my million clams: (1) Season tickets (good seats) to the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Cardinals. Now I know the Cardinals technically are in Missouri, but as a border state, Missouri should pay Illinois something for the ?cool? that crosses the river and rubs off on them; (2) lifelong amnesty on all speeding tickets, especially the 35 mph in a 20 mph zone and the 71 mph in a 65 mph zone, which I seem not to be able to avoid; and (3) a cameo role in The Sopranos, where I get to say the line, ?Hey, don't we have people in Illinois on the payroll?? 

I'm sure other millionaires would require more, but that's all I'd really need. 

State agencies have been asked to trim the fat, and that's fine until they start scraping the bone. Gov.-elect Blagojevich has said he doesn't want to raise taxes, but that may not be a realistic option once he gets a good look at the books. We've gotten into this bind over a period of time because projected revenues have been down, and the state has spent like a drunken sailor. 

Over its nearly 30-year history, the lottery has contributed more than $11 billion to the state. It contributes more than half a billion annually. And in fiscal year 2002, the lottery had $1.59 billion in sales. This agency clearly has the dough Illinois needs to clear the books. 

So the state needs to go to the nearest convenience store, buy a Quick Pick (investing in only one ticket is all that would be needed) and plug the ping-pong ball machines into that ?special? outlet designed by some of our old ?friends? in Chicago.

Hey, the idea is no more absurd than the $3 billion hole that's already been dug.

Mike Morsch can be reached at 217-206-6521 or by e-mail at morsch.michael@uis.edu


Illinois Issues, January 2003

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