Legislative leaders opposed to Governor’s plan to lease the lottery

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(Host) Legislative leaders are opposed to plans to lease the state lottery. They say it’s wrong to fund government by expanding legalized gambling.

But Governor Jim Douglas said the deal will raise at least $50 million. He urged lawmakers to carefully consider the proposal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Douglas sees megabucks by leasing the state lottery. According to a proposal from the Lehman Brothers investment bank, the state could get $53 million up front when it signs the 40 year lease – plus about $23 million in annual payments.

Douglas wants to use the lottery money for school construction, and to lower property taxes.

But House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Peter Shumlin are skeptical. Symington voiced philosophical and financial concerns.

(Symington)I do not believe Vermonters are comfortable with either increasing the reliance on gambling to fund state government, or … selling Vermont to Wall Street. The question boils down to: Is Vermont for sale?

(Dillon) And Symington disagrees with the governor’s approach to using the lottery money.

She says any additional funds for education should be used as an investment to reduce costs over the long-term. For example, she says that money for school construction could be targeted to make schools more energy efficient.

(Symington) We do want to continue to focus on property tax pressures. But let’s do it in a way where we’re looking at the underlying drivers, and how we can use state resources and help schools with those kinds of needs.

(Dillon) Investment banks like Lehman Brothers are shopping lottery lease plans around to a number of states. But if Vermont leased the lottery, it would be the first state in the country to do so. The Lehman Brothers report said the state could get a premium price for going first.

And Governor Douglas says the lease would provide money soon to lower property taxes.

(Douglas)I’m going to put a plan on the table for $50 million in property tax relief. And the Legislature can decide whether to accept it.

(Dillon) The governor says he’s opposed to casino gambling in Vermont, but not to expanding the role of the state lottery.

(Douglas) We had this discussion I remember a couple of years ago when we talked about whether Vermont should join Powerball. As you know my predecessor resisted that for many years and I supported it on the theory that people are going to buy lottery tickets, and if they’re going to buy them, I’d just as soon that they buy them from us. And that’s the same theory I have here. It’s going to happen. It’s not something we’re going to prevent. It’s a choice that people make. And we’d just as soon people buy Vermont lottery tickets.

(Dillon) But Speaker Symington says the lottery is a regressive revenue source that affects low income people. She says those who can least afford it are buying the tickets.  

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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