Brockton city councilor leads bid to set up a lottery in the shoe city
Brockton, Mass. — City officials here are looking for ''a piece of the action'' in an effort to boost municipal revenues while still complying with statewide restrictions on raising taxes under Proposition 2 1/2.
The ''action'' in this case is the state's booming lottery business, which drew in some $506 million in sales and produced $169 million in aid to Massachusetts cities and towns last year.
With such record revenues at the state level, the question Brockton officials are asking is: If the state can run a lottery, why can't they?
Led by City Councilor George Cataldo, they feel that the establishment of a Brockton city lottery might help them fund such expensive capital projects as the repair of the the city's 1904 water system and the resurfacing of long-neglected local roads.
''I think this is an idea that deserves careful consideration,'' says Mayor Carl D. Pitaro. He adds, ''If it doesn't affect our current funding from the (state) lottery I think it could be a plus for the city.''
Mr. Cataldo, an eight-year veteran on the city council, sees a local lottery as ''a way to reduce the tax burden and have a little fun with it.''
He equates the proposed city lottery with the bingo and raffle games organized by nonprofit groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Elks Club, and the Roman Catholic Church.
''The city is a nonprofit organization,'' Cataldo says. ''All we are selling is good government, and we have to have money in order to do that.''
Last month the city council voted unanimously to seek approval from the state legislature to establish a city lottery. Last week the lottery proposal was returned to city officials after it was determined by the House counsel to be too broad for consideration at the State House.
As a result, Brockton officials are now at work crafting a detailed proposal to establish a local lottery commission and a set of rules governing a city lottery. It is the first such effort in the state.
When completed, the detailed proposal will be resubmitted to the legislature as a home-rule petition for a lottery.
Lotteries are illegal in Massachusetts unless specifically authorized by legislation. Currently, the only legal lotteries are conducted by the State Lottery Commission.
Under the law, 33 percent of the revenue from the state lottery is distributed as local aid to the 351 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts. Brockton received roughly $2.2 million in fiscal 1984.
Cataldo says that was not enough to cover needed projects in the city. He says that not only would Brockton be able to raise more money under its own lottery, but more of the money spent to administer the lottery would remain in the city, and at least some of the prize money probably would be spent in the city.
Although a Brockton lottery wouldn't make anyone a millionare, Cataldo says, he estimates that prizes might range in the $5,000 or $10,000 range.
State lottery officials are concerned that a Brockton city lottery - and other city lotteries that might follow - would eventually draw business away from the Massachusetts lottery.
David Ellis of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission points out that the start-up and administrative costs for a Brockton lottery would be significant. He notes that the state lottery commission's central computer alone costs $10 million.
''We think that it is not a feasible idea for them (Brockton). What makes a lottery go is basically the size of it,'' Mr. Ellis says.
''I really don't think it will hurt Megabucks,'' counters Cataldo. The city councilor says the acceptance of the state lottery has helped make the idea of a local lottery more attractive in Brockton.
''I can recall in the 1940s a lottery was considered gambling; it was illegal ,'' Cataldo says, sarcastically. ''But now the state has it, and it's not gambling, it's a means of getting new revenue.''
He adds, ''I'm asking for a piece of the pie in Brockton.''
Once a national center for the US shoe industry, Brockton in the post-World War II years lost much of its prime industry to overseas competition. The city of some 90,000 residents has been struggling to recover for more than two decades.
Brockton officials complain that the passage of Proposition 2 1/2 in 1980 severely limited the options open to local governments to raise funds. In some cases city fees were increased. But that hasn't been enough. The need for new sources of revenue has remained, they say.
According to Daniel Soyer of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Brockton is not unique in its search for new sources of revenue. ''I think (the city lottery proposal) underscores a phenomenon we see in a number of Massachusetts municipalities as an outgrowth of Proposition 2 1/2 where officials are looking for alternative revenue sources that would be acceptable to taxpayers,'' he says.
The reaction to the proposal among Brockton residents is mixed.
''The city is full of money-grabbers already,'' says John J. DuBois, a resident of Brockton for 81 years. ''I don't think the state will allow it. They would be foolish to allow it - it would be competing with the state lottery.''
''I think it is a great idea as long as the city benefits from it,'' says Mary Fredrickson, who works at the Old Colony YMCA.
Brockton resident Doris Crowley says, ''I think they need it badly. The city needs the money and people are going to gamble anyway whether its legal or illegal, so why not make it so it benefits the city.''
''I just can't believe that the state legislature is going to allow such a development to take place,'' says Ernest J. Webby, director of the Brockton Public Library. He noted that while the idea ''sounds good,'' he felt the ''state lottery establishment'' would oppose and defeat the Brockton proposal.
''I am against any lottery because they wreck a place,'' said one lifelong Brockton resident who declined to give her name. ''Gambling is one of the diseases of the hour,'' she added. ''I've seen what these things do for you and against you, and there is no good that comes out of gambling - not in my book.''