State Rep. Paul Stam would do well to simply abandon his push for legislation that would render people who are on public assistance ineligible to play the N.C. Education Lottery.
We wonder about the constitutionality of such legislation, but we don’t wonder about this: Short of assigning a scarlet letter, perhaps a “W”, to welfare recipients, the legislation would be at least nightmarish to enforce and probably impossible, and the best result would be an arbitrary application. Oh yea, Stam would also deny those in bankruptcy — as Donald Trump once was — the terrible odds of winning a jackpot.
What the Republican from Wake County would achieve is making things more difficult at the ballot box for Republicans, who are sitting pretty now with control of the governor’s mansion and the General Assembly, but too often seem hostile to those 47 percent.
There is plenty of irony here. The Republicans, who have been on defense because of their alleged allegiance to the rich, would be protecting the poor from what is essentially a regressive tax if such legislation were approved. Additionally, isn’t the GOP the party that keeps the government off the backs of the folks?
While there are plenty of folks who will gobble up what Stam is slapping down, there are more people who understand that most of us are a couple of missed paychecks from having to depend on public assistance — especially during the nation’s worst economy since the Great Depression.
Stam is correct about this: People who are on food stamps, Medicaid or unemployment have no business buying lottery tickets because there is hardly a worse gamble. In doing so, they cheat taxpayers out of their dollars, and themselves and their loved ones out of a more comfortable existence.
The problem is not imagined: Robeson County, one of the poorest counties in the state, is a lottery-deficit county year in and year out, meaning more dollars are spent locally on the lottery than are returned in education funding.
But, as we have said before, government is never more clumsy or poorly aimed than when it tries to protect people from their own predilections, whether they be gambling, smoking or drinking alcohol.
What right-minded taxpayers abhor is the abuse in the system, those who hide income to collect benefits, or those who trade food stamps for alcohol or drugs. Those abuses can’t be vigorously investigated and stopped when our local Department of Social Services, to cite a single example, has 23,000 food stamp clients but only one full-time investigator to hunt down fraud in that system.
Stam and his fellow legislators would win a lot more support if they backed efforts to track down the cheaters, and worry less about those who would spend a handful of dollars on what they wrongly perceive as their only hope to escape poverty.