This is sort of supplemental reading to my column coming out this weekend.
Many, many months after the insertion of legalized state keno into the state budget bill last spring, we have not been given a clear picture of how this interesting thing happened.
Reading some of Gov. Malloy’s comments, one might conclude that he was ambushed by the whole thing.
“I wasn’t part of those discussions,” Malloy told reporters. “Those … were the end-of-the-session discussions that I wasn’t involved in, to tell you the truth. So I was [as] surprised as you were.”
And yet some of Speaker Sharkey’s comments suggest that gubernatorial staff was in the room and in the loop when legalized keno was used to balance the budget.
“Everybody was all in on this budget,” Sharkey said. “Everybody agreed to what we were going to do – the House, the Senate and the administration. So the notion that it’s anybody’s particular idea I think is misplaced. We were all together trying to pull together a budget that would be balanced and that would protect a lot of the other investments that we knew we had to make. So no one was a particular author of it, and there’s no reason to be looking at that now.”
I went through the House transcript from the day the budget was passed, June 1, 2013, and I found the chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee answering a question from the floor thusly:
Through you, Mr. Speaker, there is in that section of the bill to which you refer a 12. 5 percent of the gross revenue from keno, should we do this, and I expect that we — we will, this is in negotiation currently with the — with the two Indian tribes that we have in this state. In order to negotiate, we need to express the — we need to express in our budget that we have a commitment to distribute to each of the tribes 12. 5 percent of the revenue that would be gained from such an expansion of the — of the lottery game, keno. So that enables us to go forward with the negotiations with something real behind us and that is under consideration at this moment. [Italics are mine]
This is odd, because those negotiations could really only come from the executive branch. I contacted said committee chair, Rep. Patricia Widlitz, and she told me:
Before we (finance chairs, leadership, governor’s budget secretary) reached agreement on a budget proposal to put before the legislature for a vote we considered various revenue sources. During the discussion regarding keno we understood that there had to be a negotiation with the two tribes. We were informed by the Governor’s budget secretary that the discussion with the tribes had been initiated.
This is a little bit different from the way the governor’s office had made the story seem. If one casually absorbed their version of events, one would casually conclude that (a) the legislature did this (possibly crazy) thing and (b) then the governor’s office had to figure out how to get the tribes to live with it.
After some back and forth, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba conceded that the Malloy “budget secretary” (this would be Office of Policy and Management Director Ben Barnes) was part of the legislative meetings that led to the legalizing of keno and that, when it started to look like a probability, he called the tribes to open a channel for negotiations that started, in earnest, months later. (Because of our old agreement that gives the state a percentage of slot revenues, the state has to negotiate with the tribes when it wants to bring new gambling into the mix.)
“So,” I said to Doba, “even though the governor was ‘just as surprised as I was’ about keno, the difference was that he was surprised before I was?”
Doba also said Malloy will sign a keno repeal bill if it gets to his desk. I guess I buried the lead. But I’m all about process!