Our politicians have a rich history of nobly taking money from the taxpayers in the cause of the children, people with disabilities and other very valid causes with commitments that all funds will be dedicated to the cause. Unfortunately, these commitments are soon forgotten. For years, our leaders in Maryland viewed gambling as morally wrong, citing gambling addiction and the ruination of countless lives and families — until the revenue opportunities got traction. How was this moral reversal justified? All the money would benefit the children and schools. Well, almost all of it. Then-Gov. Martin O’Malley told us that gambling would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for our schools. Comptroller Peter Franchot countered that slots were a “fiscal fairy tale” that would not produce $1 of new spending on schools. Today, about 30% of gambling revenue goes to the “Education Trust Fund” and has, indeed, exceeded Mr. O’Malley’s prediction. Sadly, securing those millions in school funding does not mean the funds were additive. It meant our legislators could divert millions of non-gambling related funds formerly earmarked for education to other areas.
As Charlie Cooper, secretary of the Maryland Education Coalition, observed: “If we get $300 million in casino revenues, it doesn’t increase school funding by $300 million, and in fact, it may not increase school funding at all.”
Most recently, the 3% liquor tax surcharge was justified to help those with disabilities access the services they require. As a reader wrote in a recent letter to The Sun, once this bill neared passage, state legislators swooped in and decreased the allocation for the disabled, who received only 20% in the first year. The balance went to the school systems of those who voted for the tax increase. Whether the school systems benefited dollar for dollar is uncertain. Those who did not vote for the tax were punished with reduced or no additional funding for their jurisdiction. Today, with many of those in the hospitality business literally hanging from the ropes, our legislators want to increase the liquor tax another 1%.
Finally, we need to look at each jurisdiction’s ability to manage the funds it gets. Since we constantly hear that more money is needed for our schools to properly educate our children, one would assume that funding and quality of education are highly correlated. While these U.S. Census stats have been discussed before, they are such a clear indication of the root cause of our education problem in Maryland that they need repeating: Based on census data for the top 100 school systems in the U.S. for spending per pupil, Montgomery Co. ranks second, Baltimore third, Howard County fourth, Prince George’s County fifth and Baltimore County tenth.
Don’t get me wrong. I will eagerly endorse anything that improves educational outcomes. It is the single most important element that determines a young person’s ability to become a productive member of society. But the census data show that five of our area school systems already rank nationally in the top 10 for per-pupil spending, so it would appear that our schools are very well funded — and that is before Kirwan. Yet we have a $4 billion budget gap for education. Before voting for even more funding, I would like to know where the money is going and who, if anyone, is accountable for it.
We have been duped before with plans for increased taxes and revenues all in the name of children, education and other very valid causes. I would like to endorse Delegate McIntosh’s proposal as it is a sensible solution to the problem, but, unfortunately, I have heard this same story too many times. I need to see some very specific spending boundaries and accountability measures before giving our legislators any more money in the name of our children.