Business & Economy

House again sidelines proposal on merging lottery and liquor

Mitzi Johnson
​House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
A House proposal to create a working group to consider merging the Lottery Commission with the Department of Liquor Control was sent back to committee before getting a floor vote.

The bill, H.525, was sidelined after the proposal of an amendment with bipartisan backing to implement the merger by January 2018.

The House bill was offered as a follow-up to the body’s rejection of Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order, signed in January, to merge the two entities. Last week the House rescinded the governor’s order on a party-line vote.

Though the order was rejected, the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee put forward the bill to create a working group to study the idea of a merger and make recommendations.

Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, co-sponsored the amendment, which would have required Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission to merge by January. He said he was looking to offer a compromise proposal.

Harrison believes combining the two departments would be more efficient than the current system, in part because they each serve many of the same retailers.

“Understanding there’s some caution, let’s delay it until January and also have this study group look at some of the issues,” he said.

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Before the amendment could be voted on, however, the House decided to send the bill to the House Government Operations Committee — effectively sidelining the bill for the session.

Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the bill was put forward as “an olive branch” to indicate there was interest in the House in working toward a possible merger.

“It became clear that people were not interested in an olive branch,” she said.

Johnson said that when a lack of interest in working collaboratively on the issue over the summer became evident, the leadership decided to send the bill to House Government Operations, where lawmakers may revisit it later.

“We’re very interested. We want to move forward, but there are a lot of details to work out,” Johnson said.

In a series of documents provided to the Legislature detailing the merger, the administration outlines several proposals to cut costs, including streamlining permits and marketing, and privatizing the warehouse and distribution operation.

However, Johnson questioned whether the governor’s plan would produce substantial savings.

Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chair of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, noted that the committee voted down the proposal to set the merger for 2018. She predicted the full House would have rejected it too and said it is an important issue for the Government Operations Committee to review.

“I think that we would have rejected that amendment but did not see the point of a protracted discussion,” Head said.

Heidi Scheuermann
Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe. File photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger
Some legislators, however, lamented the situation as a lost opportunity.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, said she was disappointed the House didn’t move forward a bill to implement the merger.

The body has had “plenty of time” to work on legislation to combine the two departments, she argued.

“To me this is a no-brainer,” Scheuermann said. “It just makes no sense that we can’t do something like this — a common-sense move to find greater efficiencies, to provide greater service to Vermonters.”

Several legislators noted that the proposal has come up in past years. Scheuermann said the decision not to move forward is a partisan one.

“To lose this opportunity just for politics is really a shame,” Scheuermann said.

Scheuermann and Harrison are hopeful the Senate will advance a bill containing language to merge the two departments later this year.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Edward Letourneau

    From the view of this voter, it really looks like the democrats don’t want to do anything that would cut costs.

    • Jason Brisson

      Same here.

    • Peter Chick

      Obviously this makes way too much sense, but even the feds lumped alcohol, tobacco, and firearms together.

  • Doug Eisler

    Lottery & Liquor? Sounds like a recipe for success! Sign me up! Let’s kick it up a notch and add discount ciggies, get marijuana in there when it’s legal, a strip club on the side; by golly, that could only serve to improve Vermont!

    • Neil Johnson

      Too funny. Vermont leaders are always concerned about the welfare of the down and out. It’ll be Vermont’s success story! And don’t let private industry horn in on their monopolies.

      Not that I’m a huge casino fan, but at least when you go to a casino, you have some chance of winning and you might at least get some good entertainment and a great meal.

      Can I buy lottery tickets with my EBT card? That would be a trifecta!

      • Gary Dickinson

        You can withdraw the cash benefit from EBT at an ATM, which you can then use to purchase lottery tickets. Not a direct purchase, but similar to the “buy 5 cent gum with $1 food stamp five times, then buy smokes with $4.75 in change.”

  • John Freitag

    Clearly adjustments are still being made from the time of the Shumlin Administration when there were super majorities in the House and Senate and one party rule. Mitzi Johnson, while extremely talented , has a much more challenging job than former Speaker Shap Smith as the Republican can now provide the votes to sustain vetoes by Governor Scott. As we proceed with government now divided between parties, there will be bumps in the road and sometimes actions like this or the multiple recount for defeated Representative Hatch-Davis earlier this session that appear pretty partisan.
    The important thing for all is not to get discouraged , but to keep putting forth reasonable proposals and working to get changes passed that will better address our many needs within our limited budget. Legislators, while understandably having different priorities, should keep the good of the State and not party concerns or making political points as their top priority