HAZLETON — Janet Kukowski listened as state Sen. John Yudichak talked about the governor’s plan to sell off the state’s lottery to a private corporation and how that could adversely affect senior citizens and programs that serve them.
“I have no idea why he (Gov. Tom Corbett) would get rid of the lottery,” Kukowski said. “Why would he even think of doing that when it does so much for so many?”
Kukowski, 78, of Hazleton, was one of about 30 seniors who braved chilly temperatures to come to the Hazleton Active Adult Center to hear Yudichak, a Democrat, criticize Corbett, a Republican, who is seeking a second four-year term this year. On Tuesday Corbett will deliver his budget address.
Yudichak focused on Corbett’s fiscal policies and his intent to privatize Pennsylvania’s lottery system, which Yudichak said is one of the most successful in the United States. His news conference was one of seven Senate Democratic Caucus events held Thursday aimed at the governor.
“Over the last three state budgets, bad fiscal decisions have been driven by ideology rather than good economics,” Yudichak said. “A clear example where partisan ideology has trumped good sense is the administration’s failed efforts to privatize the Pennsylvania Lottery — an effort that cost the taxpayers $4.6 million and put a hold on any improvements to the lottery system over the past three years.”
Corbett camp responds
Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni wondered why Yudichak and other Democratic state senators were trying “to scare senior citizens” throughout the state.
“Gov. Corbett has invested more than $50 million in senior programs just last year,” Pagni said. “For Sen. Yudichak to say the governor is not concerned about older Pennsylvanians is just flat wrong.”
“A good budget starts with investing in job growth, adequately funding our schools, and expanding health care options — and a good budget should also be about protecting the services our seniors need and deserve,” Yudichak said.
Pagni said Corbett’s intent in negotiating with a private company to run the lottery was to increase revenues and make “our good lottery better.” He said the $4.6 million was expended solely to increase lottery revenues.
All proceeds from the Pennsylvania Lottery pay for senior programs.
“Our intent has always been to grow the lottery,” Pagni said. “With respect to protecting older Pennsylvanians, Gov. Corbett has invested significant resources over last three years into expanding home and community based services, to provide Agencies on Aging resources to provide programming, to support pharmaceutical programs that provide low cost medications, for home delivered meals, and for rental and property tax rebates.”
State Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, held a similar news conference at Carbondale City Hall to highlight “the negative impact of previous Corbett budgets” and describe why the upcoming budget is so important.
“Pennsylvania’s state budget is an identification of priorities and a strategy for investment,” Blake said. “We can do better than what Gov. Corbett and his administration have provided.”
Yudichak said Pennsylvania is currently ranked 47th among the 50 states in job growth.
“You have earned the right to a high quality of life,” he said. “This is your lottery. Over the last three state budgets, we have seen bad fiscal decisions lead to bad policies that have left us paying higher taxes and getting fewer services.”
Yudichak said the lottery should not be sold off; he said it should be expanded. He said the $4.6 million spent by Corbett in his attempt to sell off the lottery prevented the implementation of any plans to expand the system.
“Why would you want to dismantle the PA Lottery? Why would you outsource 270 PA jobs? Why would you jeopardize funding for vital senior programs? Do you think selling the PA Lottery is a good idea?” Yudichak asked the seniors, to which they responded, “No.”
“We need the lottery,” Kukowski said. “Maybe he should be governor of another state.”
Yudichak said the state should look to establish lottery sales at big-box chain stores such as Walmart and Target.
“Why are we not pursuing these retail partnerships? Yudichak asked. “Why are we not trying to make our great PA Lottery even better? Because we were stuck in what I call partisan neutral — a place where the governor’s ideological agenda trumps good sense and good policy.”
Yudichak said that according to the 2012-13 PA Lottery Economic and Benefit Impact Report, the lottery has a significant economic impact on Northeastern Pennsylvania, contributing $128.8 million to Luzerne County for senior programs, lottery winners and retail businesses. The lottery funds popular programs such as the PACE prescription drug program, the property tax/rent rebate program and senior centers.
Senate Democrats said they will push for the following in the 2014-15 budget:
• Creating jobs by funding targeted water and sewer rehabilitation projects, strengthening school-to-work programs and expanding community economic zones throughout the state;
• Investing in education with a $300 million boost, bolstering funds for early education and committing to a long-term financing plan that restores funding.
• Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $9 per hour, indexing the wage to inflation and raising the tipped minimum wage.
• Expanding Medicaid and extending health care to 500,000 Pennsylvania families while generating budget savings of $400 million.
• Repairing holes in the social safety net by using $85 million in Medicaid budget savings for human services such as drug, alcohol and mental-health services.