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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Maybe we should make taxes more fun. We'll borrow the appeal of the lottery, and everyone will have a good time while raising needed funds for education.

The Florida Lottery estimates that the odds of winning the jackpot are about 1 in 23 million. Fourteen million adults live in Florida. Instead of spending ,2.5 billion annually to operate the lottery, why doesn't the state levy a small state education tax and hand out a jackpot to a randomly chosen Florida taxpayer?

The odds of winning would be better.

Anyone want to race me in filling out tax form W-Score?

No? I don't blame you. Those "Double Dough," or better yet, "Triple Dough" scratch-offs are more enticing. The seasonal "Sleigh Bills" game may not be everyone's cup of tea, but some people find it particularly seductive.

It's too bad that you're about twice as likely to be in a heavy-playing bracket if you're a high-school dropout, black or earn less than ,10,000 a year, according to a 1999 report, State Lotteries at the Turn of the Century.

It's unfortunate that low-income and black students are underrepresented on the Bright Futures payroll.

Cheery billboards on I-75 encourage everyone to join the fun. "When you play, we all win!" the billboards claim. I guess "When people with less education pay, people with more education win!" wasn't as catchy.

I digress, I judge, I assume. It's not my place to tell other people what to do, and lottery-ticket buyers understand their chances of winning are small. All told, most of the revenue falls into the miniature hands of elementary schoolchildren in the form of FCAT preparation and school construction.

Or does it?

As it stands, the net gains from the Florida Lottery account for a tiny portion of the K-12 budget. K-12 education cost Florida ,23.8 billion in 2005, according to the U.S. Census. Only ,552 million - about 2.3 percent - came from lottery money.

The popular misconception that the Florida Lottery compensates for local support of schools via property taxes and other fundraising is dangerous. People are less willing to pay for schools because they think that the lottery is a panacea for taxes that plague the populace.

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I hope soon there will be lottos for road construction, police officers and admission to Halloween Horror Nights.

For now, the unwillingness of taxpayers to contribute to education because of misinformation about the lottery affects the quality of our schools.

When the lottery began in 1988, Florida ranked 37th in per-student spending, according to an article from CBS News. Today it ranks 46th.

You should be allowed to gamble if you want to do so. But hopefully we can figure out an efficient way to equip schools and teachers to educate students better, keep them in school longer and see them all graduate high school.

Fewer of them will fall into the bracket of people who pay for the rest of our UF tuition. And maybe one of them will find a way to cajole me into happily filling out my W-4 every year.

Leigh Shapiro is a junior majoring in economics. She is a member of the Alligator's editorial board.

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