Feb 27, 2008, 8:47 am
Some called it the final nail in the coffin. Some called it a eulogy. Whatever they called it, members of the state Senate said a bill they passed Tuesday will likely stand as a tombstone over Gov. James Douglas' proposed lease of the state lottery.
The bill seems fairly mundane in itself. It requires lawmakers' approval before the lottery could be leased — something that might well have been required by law already. And the administration was already planning on obtaining Legislative acceptance before entering into a long-term lease of the lottery for an up-front payment anyway, Secretary of Administration Michael Smith said.
"We wouldn't do this without their approval," he said. It is not clear if that approval is required legally, he said. Legislative research done for the House Ways and Means Committee would argue that it is.
But state senators said the bill was important because it showed how little support the idea has in the Senate. The bill passed on a roll call vote of 29-0.
And it gave them a chance to point out recent testimony by a Wall Street analyst that given the financial shape of the stock market, Vermont was quite unlikely to get a $50 million up-front payment for the lease as Douglas had hoped.
"With all due respect to the governor and his administration, his proposal has not resonated well in the Statehouse because it hasn't resonated well with Vermonters," said Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, head of the Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. "My sense is most Vermonters do not buy into selling off or leasing off a state asset."
The governor would use half the up-front money from the lease to pay down what the state owes towns for school construction obligations, and the other half to lower the statewide property tax rate.
Members of the Senate have talked about finding other ways of gaining extra money from the lottery, perhaps bonds backed by lottery proceeds, perhaps increasing the kind of games and marketing done.
That is something the administration would consider, Smith said.
"From the state's perspective the only reason the lottery exists is for revenue," Smith said. "We presented what we thought was a solid idea."
Now it is up to lawmakers to suggest an alternative, he said.
Lawmakers said the lottery proposal was set up by the governor to allow him to say he was presenting a plan but based on an idea that was never going to move in the Statehouse.
"The governor will continue to use this as a political ploy. But we are not going to play that game," said Majority Leader Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor.
In the end Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, voted for the bill, although he has questions about whether it would give lawmakers any more authority over the proposed deal than they already have.
"I think it was a waste of time to have a bill drafted," Mullin said.
Mullin is not an ardent supporter of the idea of leasing the lottery, but he is as close as can be found in the Senate, saying that in the tough fiscal times the state is facing, every idea should be considered even if it is ultimately rejected.
"I think we have to consider all options," he said.
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