The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 19, 2013

JOHN FINNERTY | Lottery plan getting resistance from Dems

John Finnerty
jfinnerty@cnhi.com

HARRISBURG — Ever since the Corbett administration announced it was seeking to hire a private manager to run the Pennsylvania Lottery, the plan was beset by questions.

Many of the questions were answered last week at a Senate hearing and in subsequent comments by the administration officials and the private operator, Camelot Global Services.

Even after most of the concerns had been addressed, Democrats continued to object to a plan for a variety of reasons, most of which seemed largely contrived to object for the sake of disagreeing.

In a rally Wednesday, a parade of Democrats gave voice to a variety of complaints. Among the most impassioned was Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, who wondered about the wisdom of putting keno in bars so that besotted barflies might blow their weekly wages rather than put bread on the kitchen table.

It seems odd that we are only struck by the moral ambiguity of funding social programs through state-run gaming when the venture is proposed by the Republican governor.

Another complaint about keno?

It might hurt business at casinos that are also funneling money into government coffers.

“If this plan goes through and the state expands lottery gambling to video-based games like keno, how will that impact slot machines in our casinos?” asked Rep. Rosita Youngblood, D-Philadelphia.

“What would be the impact on property tax relief for Pennsylvania homeowners and wage tax relief for Philadelphians?”

 

•••



For better or worse, Corbett’s plan simply follows the standard MO of the small government crowd.

The thinking goes: When the private sector can do the same job as well as government, then the job should be shifted out of the public sector.

With the Lottery contract awarded, Corbett immediately began to signal that privatizing the liquor store system is next on the agenda.

Even so, the Lottery issue is not completely settled. There is a lawsuit filed by the union and the newly elected attorney general, Kathleen Kane, must review it “for form and legality.”

The most perilous legal question would appear to be whether the governor overstepped his authority by hiring a private manager without an act of the Legislature.

Kane issued a short statement on Friday indicating that her office “will carry out our duty and report back as soon as our review is completed.”

 

•••



Coming up: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony about the proposed closing of two state prisons – SCI Cresson and Greensburg on Tuesday.

State officials have argued that the move will save the state $23 million a year and indicated little reason to believe that the plan can be stopped. That has not stopped lawmakers from trying to mobilize community opposition – with Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, urging residents to turn out for a Jan. 31 forum in Johnstown and use a link on his website to protest the closing.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, is on the judiciary committee and he said there is some precedent to suggest that an announced closing is not always final.

“I remember when Gov. (Robert) Casey announced that the Shamokin Hospital was going to close and (now-retired Rep.) Bob Belfanti said ‘Over my dead body,’ ” Gordner said last week.

The state relinquished control of the hospital, but it remained open and is now operated as part of Geisinger Health System, based in Danville.

 

•••



Also on Tuesday, there will be a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and Children and Youth committees to examine the report following up on the child protection task force formed in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.



John Finnerty works in the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.