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Democratic lawmakers want voice in lottery, liquor, budget talks

| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Before they will consider fast-paced electronic games such as keno, Senate Democrats want to make sure they are included in negotiations on changes to the Pennsylvania Lottery and that revenue goes toward existing lottery-funded programs to benefit senior citizens, the caucus leader said Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said he doesn't want money from gambling expansion going toward lottery privatization as Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed.

Despite Corbett's decision last month not to renew a contract with a British firm, lottery privatization is an issue the governor and legislative leaders likely will push in 2014, Costa said.

Costa said he opposes letting a firm manage the lottery, especially an overseas company. He'd consider an advisory role for an outside firm but said state lottery staff should run keno if it's approved.

There's a lot of speculation circulating at the Capitol on issues that may emerge this session, including one that liquor privatization soon could be considered, Costa said. A push by Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, stalled in July.

House and Senate Republicans and the Governor's Office are talking about the state store system but there is no tentative agreement, said House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin.

Privately, some GOP lawmakers say they're optimistic a scaled-back version may emerge. That is most likely a hybrid bill that would keep some of the 600 state stores but allow expanded private sales of wine and liquor, legislative staffers say.

Republicans control the Senate with 27 of 50 seats but they need Democratic votes on some issues.

The lottery provides money for senior programs from low-cost prescription drugs to rebates on property tax and rent.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, has suggested using keno revenue for a new program to freeze seniors' school property taxes.

An $800 million state budget deficit and a re-election year for Corbett, whose public opinion numbers are low, creates “desperation” among Republicans in the legislature, said Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia.

Hughes, ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he wants to make sure legislation doesn't get slammed through to meet political agendas. Hughes is using a deficit figure from the Independent Fiscal Office, saying the governor's $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion figure is too high.

Mike Barley, Corbett's campaign manager, said Senate Democrats would “be OK (with the agenda) if it included a tax increase. Legislators and the administration will be looking at different ways to fix the budget (gap.) All I hear from them is ‘raise taxes,' not ‘cut spending.'”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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