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Californians Urge State Lottery for Education

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Backed by the Bally Corporation, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of games of chance, a group of California citizens has collected more than one million signatures in support of establishing a state lottery whose proceeds would be used to support public education.

If approved by a majority of the voters next fall, the proposal could add hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the largest state education budget in the nation. California's governor has asked for $11.9 billion in funding for the schools

Californians for Better Education, a non-profit corporation, has turned in about 1,026,000 signatures to the secretary of state in hopes of having the lottery initiative included on the November ballot. Only about 630,000 valid signatures are required for placing the proposed measure on the ballot.

34 Percent for Schools

Jack S. McDowell of Woodward & McDowell, a political-consulting firm representing the supporters of the initiative, said it calls for at least 34 percent of the lottery's revenue to be earmarked for education. He said that no more than 16 percent of the money collected could be spent on operating the lottery; about 50 percent would be awarded in prizes.

Based on lottery sales in other Western states, Mr. McDowell said the proposed lottery would bring in an estimated $1.7 billion in the first year. Of that total, about $668 million would be distributed to the public schools.

Currently, about 17 states and the District of Columbia operate lottery games, Mr. McDowell said, and4three other states are considering establishing such games.

Earlier this month, New York's lottery commission awarded $22.1-million--the largest single lottery prize ever offered--to be divided among four winners. As a result of that one drawing, the state's public schools will receive about $11 million.

Officials Divided in Reaction

Despite the financial benefits to be gained by the schools, California officials are divided on the proposed initiative.

According to Joe Holsinger, deputy superintendent for public and governmental policy for the California Department of Education, both Gov. George Deukmejian and Attorney General John Van de Kamp have said they disapprove of a state-operated lottery.

Mr. Holsinger said neither the state commissioner of education nor the state board has taken a position on the initiative. "We are concerned that if the initiative is passed and there's money for the schools, it would get deducted from8state aid," he said.

"We're not sure that there would be any gain for the schools," said Mr. Holsinger, adding that the state now provides about 90 percent of the operating costs of local schools.

Additional Funds Intended

According to Mr. McDowell, the proposed initiative contains language that clearly establishes how the money is to be used and states that the lottery's proceeds are to be supplemental, and not a substitute for current state funding to the schools.

Mr. McDowell said the proposed initiative is being supported by "a tremendous number of people in education, business, and law enforcement." He said recent polls have found that about 77 percent of California's voters are in favor of the proposed lottery.

"This is an amendment to the state constitution to be enacted by the voters," said Mr. McDowell, adding that the measure would need the approval of a simple majority of those casting ballots.

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