Suddenly state lawmakers and the governor are falling all over each other in a rush to put casino tax revenues into a “lockbox” to be used only for funding education.
Recent budget shortfalls, failed heating systems and proposed layoffs in Baltimore schools have exposed their broken promises from prior referendums on gambling, which has caused them much embarrassment. After all, there was the 2012 vote to legalize table games to raise money for education and the 2008 vote to legalize slot machines to raise money for education. The schools have not benefited from the casinos, but the broken record keeps playing.
To end this repetition, I have an alternative proposal: Casino tax revenues would be put into a lockbox to pay the salaries and expenses for state lawmakers, executive branch members and their staffs. And what about funding for education? The necessary funds to ensure that every child in Maryland is educated would be disbursed first out of the general fund, before that lockbox to pay their salaries and expenses could be opened.
State government representatives and officials continually display willful ignorance in regard to three basic economic facts:
1. All dollars, regardless of origin, are created equal. Calling some dollars different than other dollars might be a useful fiction when it comes to budgeting. But for casino tax revenues it has become a pure fiction designed to make the political leadership look virtuous on the issue of education while they go about cheating our children and slavishly catering to corporate gaming interests.
2. Gambling is a zero-sum game. Casinos do not magically create money. The revenues they generate come directly out of the pockets of their patrons. Taxing that revenue is no different than taxing the revenue generated by any other business activity. Why single out casino revenue for special treatment and not movies or sports or any other form of entertainment?
3. Gambling is an optional recreational activity in which many people do not participate. In contrast, education is essential for maintaining our economy, our democracy and most importantly for enhancing our quality of life. All of us have a responsibility in one form or another to see that every child is educated. Our collective future depends on it.
What message does it send to our children when we tell them that the quality of their education depends on how much money their family, friends and neighbors lose in the local casinos? The real embarrassment is the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of our political leadership. These same politicians expect accountability from school administrators and teachers. But they fail to uphold and model the same educational values that they demand be taught to our children. Education is founded on commitments to intellectual honesty and to searching for truth — the exact opposite of the willful ignorance so prominently displayed by many adults both in and out of government. Whether the issue is school funding, gun violence or climate-change denial, no amount of education can save us from willful ignorance. The embracement of willful ignorance is a moral issue that the adults in charge must take a stand against rather than continually enable.
For my gambling proposal, I envision a referendum promoted by television commercials much like the ones I saw in 2012. But instead of a teacher in a classroom pleading for the funding needed to do her job, a member of the state legislature, standing by a desk in an office, would look directly into the camera and state: “Lawmaking is time and labor-intensive work with a need to pay for office staff, supplies, travel and research. Money is tight, but if you vote yes on the new gambling law, all the additional revenue generated will go directly to pay the salaries and benefits for the lawmakers, their office staff, and any other of their work-related needs. Don’t worry that the money from gambling might be used for other purposes. It will be in a lockbox to support the work of your governor, state senators and delegates, and opened only after we have fully funded the education of every child in the state.”
Of course, I will never see such a commercial. The politicians know that for them, it would be a losing bet.
Joseph Ganem is a professor of physics at Loyola University Maryland and author of “The Robot Factory: Pseudoscience in Education and Its Threat to American Democracy,” to be published by Springer in fall 2018. His email is email@example.com.