Leading General Assembly Democrats on Tuesday threw their support behind a proposal to channel the state’s casino revenue to a “lockbox” for education funding.
When voters approved slot machine gambling in 2008 and expanded casino offerings to include table games in 2012, it was with a pledge from lawmakers that the revenue would go to schools. While budget analysts say that promise has been kept, it has not increased state education funding beyond what was already required by law. Money that once went to schools has been diverted for other government programs.
The constitutional amendment being proposed by Baltimore lawmakers Del. Maggie McIntosh and Sen. Joan Carter Conway would require the casino money to go toward spending above and beyond the state’s K-12 educational funding formulas.
“It’s time to keep the faith with the people,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said, flanked by House Speaker Michael Busch and dozens of other Democratic lawmakers. “It’s about promises that were made to the people.”
Casinos generated $451 million for the state’s Education Trust Fund in the fiscal year that ended last June 30.
The proposal would be phased in over four years, with a quarter of that money facing the new budget constraint each year.
“It’s time for a bold plan to improve learning and working conditions in our school and make sure that no matter what neighborhood you live in, there’s a strong public school where every student gets an equal opportunity at success,” said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association.
Constitutional amendments require approval by three-fifths of lawmakers in each chamber of the General Assembly, and then of a majority of voters.
Baltimore Del. Mary Washington has meanwhile introduced legislation that would accomplish the same goal as McIntosh and Conway’s legislation, but without a constitutional amendment. Her bill would only require a simple majority of the General Assembly and could take effect without having to wait for approval in the November election.
“If we wanted to, we could do it now,” said Washington, a Democrat. “We don’t have to wait.”