I understand completely Gov. Tom Corbett's desire to cut back on spending at the state level, while increasing revenue.
I'm all for that.
I understand, as well, his philosophy when it comes to privatizing -- he actually has his own privatization task force -- those areas of state government that aren't performing financially as well as one might expect, the Pa. Turnpike, for example, or the sale of liquor in the state through the LCB.
All things being equal in terms of service and overhead, taxpayers would like to see state programs and agencies producing more revenue when possible, not less.
So maybe it makes sense to turn those operations over to a private company that might have the wherewithal to cut costs or turn a higher percentage of profit.
As long as the quality of service to taxpayers isn't going to be cut, of course.
Don't talk to me about turning the Pa. Turnpike over to a private company, for instance, if it means an increase in fees at the same time maintenance of the turnpike goes to the dogs.
This has all got to make sense for taxpayers, first and foremost.
Which brings me to the current discussion about privatizing the state lottery.
Corbett is considering turning the lottery agency over to a British company. Camelot Global Services, which runs the national lottery in the United Kingdom, is pledging to generate more than $34 billion in profits over 20 years if it gets the Pennsylvania contract.
That's about $1.7 billion a year.
But it sounds like an awful idea to me.
I can't believe I said that because it's a lot of money.
But not enough.
And I say that for a couple of reasons.
For one, I admit it makes me a little uncomfortable that a state program of this magnitude would be run by a foreign entity.
If we're going to privatize the state lottery, let's try to find an American company to handle it.
Call me a homer if you want, but I'd rather management of the state lottery remain on American soil unless the advantages are just so great they can't be ignored.
For another, the state lottery system seems to be running fairly efficiently as it is. It's one of the largest lotteries in the United States, and it had $3.5 billion in sales in the last fiscal year.
That's not chicken feed.
Of that $3.5 billion, about one-third was profit. That's not $1.7 billion (the Camelot Global promise), but it is $1.1 billion.
Now perhaps someone could (and should) question the cost of running the state lottery -- about $2.4 billion, nearly 69 percent of gross, last year.
I'm no expert on lotteries, so maybe 69 percent operating expenses is about right, especially considering that 61 percent of proceeds was paid out in prize money. Then say another 6 percent or 7 percent goes to vendor commissions, which leaves administrative operating expenses at around 2.5 percent.
If that's even close to being right, I have no issues with the lottery at all, except I've never won diddley-squat when I've purchased lottery tickets.
Also consider that the Pennsylvania Lottery is the only lottery in the country that directs every penny of its proceeds to programs for senior citizens -- about 1 million people above the age of 65.
I'm all for that. Seriously, it's one of the few programs run by the state that actually works the way it's supposed to work. Property tax/rent rebates for seniors, for example. Terrific program.
But there are others: Free and shared ride transit, long-term nursing home care, prescription drug programs and family caregiver support services, all using a needs-based approach.
I can tell you from personal experience -- my mother benefited from three of the five programs listed above before she died a couple of months ago -- these programs are a Godsend. I don't know what my mother would have done without them.
And she's not the only one.
This is no small thing considering Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the United States.
Like I said, I understand Gov. Corbett's desire to cut costs and increase revenue in every corner of state government. I even agree with it most of the time.
But when it comes to the state lottery, it seems appropriate to move ahead at a snail's pace.
Leaving no stone unturned on behalf of taxpayers, slow and steady will win this race.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.