Can't get enough of being stuck in Columbia County traffic, watching those lights flicker from green to yellow and then stopping on red while your blood pressure rises and your bladder swells?
Then you're in luck. Now's your chance to get your very own traffic signal.
In fact, you can get a whole truckload of them. They're surplus property, stacked up on pallets at the county's warehouse, and available for bids through the county's Web site at www.columbiacountyga.gov. Just follow the link to "surplus auctions," where you also can find a couple of Ford Crown Victorias and a pile of old wire.
As of Friday, the high bid for the whole stack of traffic signals had crept north of $100, plus 14.5 percent tax and buyer's premium. Bidding ends at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, so there's still plenty of time to hop online and get the traffic signal you've always wanted.
What do you do with it when you get one? Whatever you want, I suppose. Maybe replace the bulbs and hang the fixture horizontally to make a pool-table light, or stick a base on it to turn it into a floor lamp.
Me,? I'd hang it from a tree in my back yard and do what I've always wanted to do with the ones hanging at Washington Road and Belair: Blast the heck out of them with a 12-gauge shotgun.
I can feel my blood pressure falling already.
One thing is sure: You could probably buy a lot of traffic signals, or whatever else you wanted, with $24 million.
What's the significance of that number? That pile of cash represents the net amount of money that has left Columbia County since Georgia started its lottery in 1993.
That's not the way the Georgia Lottery Corp. portrayed the news in an accentuate-the-positive press release this past week, though. In conjunction with announcing record profit of nearly $430 million for the first half of fiscal year 2010, lottery officials provided a list of all the benefits Columbia County has received since legalized gambling started in Georgia.
Those fat payouts include:
- $47.9 million in HOPE scholarships for 9,484 students in public and private universities and technical colleges.
- $43.9 million for the county's pre-kindergarten programs, serving 11,752 students.
- $8.5 million for capital improvements and technology (no longer funded by the lottery, which by law is now restricted to paying for the HOPE and pre-K entitlements).
- $17.6 million paid to Columbia County businesses in commissions on lottery sales.
- And, of course, the big one: $134.8 million paid in winnings to Columbia County residents since 1993.
Those numbers add up to a whopping $252.7 million coming into the county from the Georgia Lottery. Fantastic, isn't it?
Conspicuously absent from the Georgia Lottery's cheerful announcement, though, was just exactly what Columbia County residents spent to get all that money back.
So I asked, and got a quick response: "Georgia Lottery sales for Columbia County for that period were $276.7 million," said spokesman Tandi Reddick.
Do the math: That means Columbia County had a net loss of $24 million from playing the lottery.
In other words, Columbia County lottery players paid the Georgia Lottery Corp. $24 million for arranging college scholarships that we paid for, setting up pre-K classes that we funded and giving prizes to lucky players.
Couldn't that $24 million have been put to better use here in Columbia County? We'll never know, because the Georgia Lottery is on pace for another record year - its 11th straight year of rising profits. That, undoubtedly, will mean even more money flowing out of the county, much of it never to return.
The traffic light controlling that cash flow is perpetually green. And with state-sponsored gambling, we'll always be in the red.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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