Lawmakers debate plan to lease state lottery

02/01/08 5:45PM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) Some lawmakers are hoping that the Legislature will take a serious look at Governor Douglas's plan to lease the state lottery. They say it would provide new money to help balance the state budget.

But opponents argue that relying on more gambling revenue is a bad idea.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The governor has proposed leasing the lottery to a private company for a 40 year period. In return, the state would receive a one time payment of $50 million and the company would guarantee that the state would continue to get an annual payment of roughly $22 million.

Douglas wants to allocate $25 million from the one time payment to reduce the statewide property tax rate and he's proposed using the remaining $25 million for school construction costs.

Speaking on VPRs Vermont Edition, Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright said it's a plan that deserves serious consideration:

(Wright) "We are facing some very tough economic times in Vermont there's a national recession looming in Vermont it's clear now we're coming into that also so we need to look at new ways, other ways to raise revenue...without raising taxes."

But Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson said he opposes the plan because, in order to be successful, it would require the state's per capita spending on lottery games to double:

(Pearson) "So I actually think the governor is passing off what he knows is a politically volatile idea of increasing sales from the lottery and saying I'm going to let Wall Street do the dirty work of that and we'll jut try to get this one time money out of it."

And Pearson describes the Governor's plan as being politically motivated:

(Pearson) "I'm not even sure the proposal is all that serious I think it's actually falls into more of a political ploy so the governor can throw up his hands and say you know what if guess the Legislature is not interested in a free 50 million dollars."

But Rep. Wright strongly disagrees with this assessment:

(Wright) "There are a whole host of items in the budget that we can't fully fund that I think we could certainly use in a variety of ways but we can use the money and we ought to fully explore it I think to say that's political is wrong I think the Administration is absolutely serious about it."

(Kinzel) If lawmakers reject the leasing plan, it's likely that an alternative proposal will emerge to allow the Vermont Lottery Commission to use more aggressive marketing techniques to boost lottery sales. A spirited debate is also expected over this plan.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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