Wednesday, November 28, 2012

For sale: Pennsylvania

There he goes again! Remember when Gov. Corbett used to say Pennsylvania is just like a family… when the budget was tight, they would sit around a table and figure out how to get through the tough times. Although unlike the average Pennsylvania family that would consider ways to increase income as well as cut, Corbett would never consider letting Johnny take on a paper route or working a second job himself.

In Corbett’s Pennsylvania there was only one way --- cut, cut, cut. But now that support for his slash and burn agenda has disappeared, PA’s pater familia has another quick fix for the Commonwealth’s fiscal woes -- sell, sell, sell.

Yeah, that’s it… the liquor stores, the lottery -- if it’s worth anything put it out for a yard sale and take the best offer.

Just sell it.

Recently the governor renewed his interest in an initiative first mentioned last April: privatizing the state lottery.  At the time, Gov. Corbett was just investigating the lottery privatization, and knowing the length of time a Corbett investigation can take, I didn’t expect any action until at least 2014 when the influx of fast cash could help a tough budget in a reelection year.

But now the plan to privatize seems to be on the fast track. Your party’s loss in the presidential, senate, attorney general, auditor general, and treasurer races can be a strong motivator to do something and quickly before anyone can check up on what it is you want to do.

Now the Administration is racing to judgment on the solo bid to privatize the lottery. That’s right, ONE lonely bid – from a company in the United Kingdom. Yes, that same United Kingdom that we fought 236 years ago to get out of our government operations. Maybe the Tea Party can chant, “gaming without representation” and help lift the curse. And like Cinderella’s carriage, this bid disappears on December 31, conveniently before the General Assembly returns to Harrisburg to weigh in on whether to sell off the family assets.

Bear in mind, under its current management by the state’s Revenue Department, the Lottery has increased sales by 8.5% in the last fiscal year -- to $1.06 Billion -- and that these flourishing sales go to fund programs for Pennsylvania’s nearly 2 million seniors. Funds pay for programs like transit, rent and property tax rebates, prescription drug assistance, senior centers and long-term care services.

This leaves many asking: if the Lottery, which is owned by the very citizens it benefits, is already profitable and going to the programs our people depend on, why privatize, especially when there is such little interest from potential takers.

But I say: why stop there? If you want to sell, then sell, baby, sell.

Maybe Camelot Global Services would like to purchase the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Think about it…if it’s good for a portion of the state’s operations, why not ALL state operations? They can’t do a worse job than this Administration regarding roads, education and social services.

In addition to running our lottery and our liquor stores they could pave our roads…for a fee. Operate our schools…for a fee. Care for our infirm…for a fee, and we would never need to pay taxes again. We could just pay a private company with a CEO that makes 15x what the governor earns (so she must be good) to do it for us. By selling out we could probably even punt on our pension obligation.

And if the people don’t like the new benevolent corporate entity, they can move to some other socialist state with a democracy like New Jersey or New York (their governors have colluded with President Obama anyway).

Just as in the case of our state’s liquor stores, the Corbett administration has puts blinders on to the existing case studies. Illinois, which privatized its lottery in 2010, has been let down by private company’s failure to meet its forecasted revenue projection.

Remember a few years ago when the casinos wanted to bring a new industry to the Commonwealth… we said ok…pay a 55% tax -- and they agreed. Contrast that with Corbett and the gas industry when they wanted to come, and he said “Ok” -- for free!

In reality, the Harrisburg Patriot-News Editorial Board has done more research on Lottery privatization than the Corbett Administration, noting that the state has very little negotiating leverage when there is a single bidder. 

Once again , just like the sweetheart deal that Corbett struck with Royal Dutch Shell that then required legislative action to implement (tax breaks to the tune of $1.7 Billion), this deal only appears to work on the surface IF the legislature agrees to give the privateers Keno as a revenue source … for free!... just like our shale gas.

Like so many other Grover Norquist devotees, Gov. Corbett placed all the Commonwealth’s bets that Marcellus Shale, if left untaxed, would do so much for the economy in terms of jobs and revenue that he could just sit back and never have to work at governing. It didn’t pan out and now he needs to sell the farm.

Don’t do it governor!