Democratic leaders question lottery proposal

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Democratic legislative leaders are concerned about the Douglas Administration’s plan to lease the Vermont Lottery to a private business for 30 years.

The Governor says the proposal is a way to provide at least $25 million for immediate property tax relief. But the lawmakers question the social cost of relying more heavily on gambling revenue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Every week, thousands of Vermonters purchase lottery tickets from their local outlet. All the proceeds from the Lottery are put into the state’s Education Fund – last year this amounted to roughly $20 million.

The Douglas Administration is now considering a plan to lease the Vermont Lottery, for a 30 year period, to a private business and to use money from the contract to finance a one time reduction in the statewide property tax for education.

The Administration expects to receive an up front payment of $50 million under this deal and the State would continue to receive annual payments of about $20 million.

Senate President Peter Shumlin is extremely skeptical of this plan:

(Shumlin) "Vermont has always been very thoughtful about saying ‘no’ to gambling and approaching our lottery carefully and thoughtfully and with compassion. The result is that we don’t exploit the lottery as other states do. I can assure you that the private sector will. They’ll want to give us bribe money and then guarantee us a certain amount of money per year. And they’re going to gin this thing up and go after the people that can least afford it."

(Kinzel) House Speaker Gaye Symington also has a lot of questions about the proposal:

(Symington) "I just have real concerns over relying on a revenue base for the state and seeing more aggressive marketing of what is essentially gambling. We need to learn more about the proposal and I think we need to be thinking about the long term consequences for the state – not just be blinded by short term dollar signs."

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas acknowledges that any company willing to pay 50 million dollars to lease the Lottery is likely to seek ways to expand gambling opportunities in Vermont but he says the deal does have a positive side:

(Douglas) "Playing the lottery is an option, it’s a choice that people make. Paying property taxes is not an option if you choose to own a home…so we have to look at all the different components of the Education Fund and see where we can cut back, what other options there are. And this is one of those situations where we have to choose among options that may not be ideal but it’s clear to me that the property tax burden now is too high for the people of our state."

(Kinzel) The governor says he’s unveiling this plan now to give lawmakers ample time to thoroughly review it before the start of the new session in January.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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