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Reader asks: Where’s the lottery money?

Reader Jim Nelson called this morning as a followup to Sunday's column, to wonder where does the Washington state Lottery money going. Specifically, is it or isn't it going to schools?

Spin Control can't answer every question from readers, but this is a fairly slow morning, and we actually do know this one. (Well, we did have to double check, but the question comes up frequently.)

The answer is most, but not all, lottery money goes to school construction, but it didn't always...

This gets confusing for two reasons.

One is that many residents remember being promised the revenue would go to schools back in the '70s and early '80s when different lottery proposals were floated.

By the time the lottery legislation passed, however, in 1982, the state was in tough financial times and the law was written so that the money was funnelled into the general fund. Supporters of this "fix" argued that because the state spends more than half of its general fund on K-12 and college education, the majority of it was going to schools. But that was different than setting the money aside in a special account solely for education.

The other confusing thing is, that changed in 2000. That's when voters passed an initiative that directed the money to be placed in the state School Construction Fund. So starting in 2001 the money was set aside for a portion of the money (a relatively small portion) needed each year for school construciton, but not for teacher salaries or books or buses.

There are, however, a few special lotteries that go to help pay off stadiums, whcih were also established by separate laws. And a small portion of the lottery revenue is set aside to pay for anti-gambling addiction programs.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.