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Legal opinion sinks sale of Colorado Lottery

Apr 20, 2007, 8:08 am

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Colorado Lottery

Dreams of selling off the Colorado Lottery for a fat payoff were discarded like a losing scratch ticket Thursday after state legal experts gave an adverse opinion on the plan.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said he would not seek a measure that would ask voters to sell a "concession contract" in the state lottery because he couldn't fix a legal opinion that referred to the proposed sale as the state taking on $3 billion in debt.

"I may be a freshman, but I'm not that stupid," Romer said.

The Office of Legislative Legal Services concluded that the state constitution requires ballot questions in odd years to be about taxes or debt. Officials in the office called it a debt because the proposal doesn't increase taxes.

Romer contends his proposal should qualify for the ballot as a "multifiscal-year obligation."

Romer's proposal crashed just two days after he touted the lottery-sale plan as a way to raise millions for college scholarships, public schools, open- space purchases and veterans services.

He estimated the state would raise $2.2 billion to $2.6 billion by privatizing the lottery, giving an operator a contract of up to 75 years. He wanted voters to consider the proposal on the November ballot.

Supporters said at least $1.5 billion would have been invested in a trust fund expected to provide $37 million a year to local governments for parks and open space, $37 million for open- space purchases by Great Outdoors Colorado, $21 million for schools and $10 million for state parks.

Any money raised above $1.5 billion would have been split three ways. The first $40 million would have gone to a fund to provide veterans services, and the rest would have been split 50-50 between Great Outdoors Colorado and a state-college scholarship program.

Romer said he and co-sponsor Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, are still committed to making the state lottery a better- performing state asset and would consider a ballot measure again next year.

Romer said he didn't have time to resolve the question raised by the state legal experts because Thursday was the deadline for filing his measure.

In the meantime, Romer said, groups outside the Capitol might pursue the lottery-sale plan as a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative.

Marvin Meyers, legislative chairman for the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, said: "We were aware that this was always an option. This is something we'll look at very carefully."

Today is the final day to notify the state of an intent to pursue ballot initiatives in November.

The crash of the legislative effort to put the lottery-sale measure on the November ballot also dashes a Republican effort to use the lottery-sale proceeds as a substitute for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's plan to freeze property-tax rates for schools.

"That conversation will be moot," Romer said.

Former state Sen. Norma Anderson, a Lakewood Republican, dismissed the lottery- privatization plan as a "bait and switch" because it steered money away from other programs where that money had been promised.

Other statehouse leaders said lawmakers didn't have enough time to review the lottery- privatization plan.

Ritter said voters already have decided how lottery money should be used.

"To try and find other ways to handle the lottery and still maintain the intent of citizens of Colorado will take longer than two- and-a-half weeks," Ritter said.

Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Jefferson County, said the legislature needs more than three weeks to study the proposal. The General Assembly is set to complete its work by May 9.

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