Senate leaders debate keno revenue use
HARRISBURG - The future of the Pennsylvania Lottery remains a contentious issue, and Senate leaders Tuesday staked out different positions on how to spend any new revenue if they legalize keno.
Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, Chester, said earmarking keno revenue to underwrite a school property tax freeze for seniors is the best way to help middle-class retirees in danger of losing their homes because of rising taxes.
Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-43, Pittsburgh, and Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes, D-7, Philadelphia, said keno revenue should support existing Lottery programs such as property tax and rent rebates for eligible seniors and others. The rebate program's income limits could be expanded, they said.
The leaders were in town to mark the midpoint of the two-year legislative session.
Despite Gov. Tom Corbett's action last week to scrap a proposed bid agreement with a British firm to manage the Lottery, the question of whether Lottery gambling should be expanded or how the Lottery should be run remains on the legislative agenda.
The Senate plans hearings on the issue this winter.
Corbett's plan to hire Camelot Global Services to manage the Lottery in order to generate more revenue to meet growing demand for senior citizen programs stirred much controversy last year.
Adding terminal-based games like keno to boost revenue was a key part of Camelot's strategy. However, the agreement was effectively sidelined when state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane ruled it illegal.
Pileggi is working on a proposal that combines an enhanced private-sector role for the Lottery, keno and the property tax freeze for seniors. A property tax freeze will provide the most direct aid to seniors who are retired and have no children in school, yet are faced with continual property tax hikes, he said.
"I'd like it to be as broad-based as possible," Pileggi said.
Costa and Hughes stopped short of openly endorsing keno saying the party caucuses will need to negotiate those issues.
But they said it would be better policy to use keno to support a rebate program in place than create a new program.
"It's already a proven program," Hughes said.
The program helps homeowners and renters who are either seniors age 65 and older, widows and widowers age 50 and older and individuals with disabilities age 18 and older who earn below set annual income limits.