We must set bound­aries for sports wa­ger­ing — and ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - E.B. Whit­man, Tow­son

I am re­spond­ing to Del. Mag­gie McIn­tosh’s re­cent com­men­tary re­gard­ing sports gam­bling rev­enue go­ing to sup­port schools (“Mag­gie McIn­tosh: Mary­land sports gam­bling rev­enue will go to schools,” Oct. 6). Fool us once, shame on us. Fool us for the tenth time, shame on all of us.

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. Howwas 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.

COUR­TESY

Live! Casino is con­struct­ing a new sports-themed en­ter­tain­ment venue, pro­jected to be done by the end of 2021.

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