When Wisconsin created a state lottery 12 years ago, legislators promised it would be self-funding and they would never, ever tap into state tax dollars. Yet, last session, legislators did just that.
"How soon they forget," says James Amberson, budget analyst for the Wisconsin Lottery Administration. "It seemed like a race to see who could break the rules."
Unlike the situation in some other states, Wisconsin's lottery is not struggling financially. But legislators on both sides of the aisle wanted to boost property-tax relief, and in Wisconsin, that's what lottery revenues pay for. The plan called for using taxpayer dollars to buy out the administrative costs of the lottery back to 1995. With those costs covered, the lottery would then be able to return more of the money from ticket sales to homeowners as property-tax relief.
The plan, however, not only violated a decade-old political pledge, it hit a legal buzzsaw. The state attorney general declared the maneuver to be unconstitutional.
Governor Tommy G. Thompson vetoed the "lottery buyback," as well as some of the provisions that shifted current lottery fund expenses to the general fund. But $76 million in general fund money for the lottery was left in the budget for fiscal year 2000 since the state budget process ran late, and municipalities had already planned their tax bills based on the lottery funding.