Like the yearly trip to the dentist, appropriations hearings began for cabinet secretaries and agency heads. For some, the grilling in the House and Senate committees was worse than that pointy metal thing on a loose filling.
Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser was questioned by the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday afternoon. He's the man behind the governor's plan to privatize the lottery and he expressed his displeasure at Attorney General Kathleen Kane's rejection of it.
"It was a very unfortunate decision made," Meuser said. "It will be costly. It is one, frankly, that legally we do not agree with."
That was just the beginning of the disagreement with Democrats.
Minority chairman Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) called the plan a solution in search of a problem.
"Why try to sell off the lottery, a lucrative and well-run organization making a lot of money for seniors?" Markosek asked.
Meuser pounced on that.
"Chairman, you know how much I respect you, but your opening statement about selling the lottery, that's part of this problem. That's completely untrue," Meuser said. "There's no plan to sell the lottery. We cannot by federal or state law."
When Republicans got their turn at the microphone, they mostly applauded Meuser and the governor for "thinking outside the box" and trying to find additional revenue for senior programs.
Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) was not so laudatory. Conklin said his money advisor had real questions about the lottery's rosy projections.
"He said the numbers were bogus and weren't true," Conklin said.
Meuser responded quickly.
"Well, he's wrong and I'd be happy to prove it to him," he said.
Freshman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) asked about consultant fees built into the lottery deal, even if it didn't go through.
"What exactly is owed to outside consultants at this point?" she asked.
Meuser said those fees were still being determined. He said he didn't know offhand and wouldn't offer a ballpark figure.
Undaunted, Dean continued.
"Is it $50 million or less?" she asked.
"Far less," Meuser responded.
"Is it 25 million or less?" Meuser asked.
At that point, Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) interrupted.
"Representative, it's not a game show," Adolph said with a chuckle and asked Meuser to send the answer to the committee.
It is surprising that a revenue secretary, who's been immersed in the lottery deal and knew he would be questioned about it at the appropriations hearing, didn't readily have the answer to a simple question: how much are consultants being paid if the deal fails?
While the hearings aren't game shows, there is a showy component to them as lawmakers take center stage and try to grab the spotlight.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia) summed up his problem with privatizing the lottery and liquor stores with a closing soliloquy.
"My background before this was in the private sector," Boyle said. "I'm certainly not one who's going to bash the private sector, but nor am I gonna make the mistake on the other extreme and think merely by privatizing functions we're suddenly gonna get dramatically an increase in revenue. Thank you."
You can catch "Appropriations Live" in the House and Senate for the next three weeks.
Don't forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses.
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