The Illinois Senate yesterday passed a gambling bill that would allow five more casinos in the state, including one in Chicago, slot machines at race tracks and at Midway and O’Hare, oversight of all casinos by the Illinois gaming board, and a host of other provisions designed to finally get the bill by Governor Pat Quinn (no relation) who has so far blocked gambling legislation.
Statewide, the bill is expected to generate $268 million in revenue annually. $129 million will go to schools. The politicians have prepared a laundry list of other items on which to spend the “one-time windfall,” including
–money for depressed communities (How’s that for specificity?)
–a Latino community development fund (ditto)
–improvements to the state fairgrounds
–compulsive gambling treatment
–quarter horse purses to appease the appease the track owners, who are huge contributors to Illinois politicians, and
–maintenance of botanic gardens, the most salient of which is located in or near the district of Senator Terry Link, the bill’s main sponsor.
Mayor Emanuel promises that all the revenue from the Chicago casino would go toward “building 21st century schools for the children of Chicago.” He backed this “vision” with slides of the beautiful, pristine, technology laden, 21st century and beyond schools that will be built with the proceeds from gaming. Application of “technology” solves everything in education, don’t you know, but I digress.
These promises, especially Mayor Emanuel’s pledge to spend his share of the spondulicks on “the children of Chicago” are supposed to make us feel better about this vast gambling expansion and thus build support.
But wait a minute…
Chicago is broke. Illinois is in even worse financial shape. State vendors are waiting months, or longer, to get paid. The state has an unfunded pension liability approaching $100 billion. Both the city and the state struggle to balance their operating budgets even though, in the state’s case, the budget can be “balanced” with borrowing. Both Chicago and the state suffer from dilapidated infrastructure and a business environment rendered distinctly unpalatable largely because of currently high taxes and the certainty of even higher taxes in the future made necessary because our politicians can’t stop spending money.
And now the politicians want to spend the “windfall” the state and city will generate from casino expansion. We’re supposed to feel better because the money will be spent on “education,” but only half the money is to be spent on “education.” Even if all the money were spent on “education,” what, exactly, does that mean? Can’t the pols declare anything on which they want to spend money “education” and go about showering their constituents with dollars? Furthermore, money is a fungible asset. If the new money is spent on “education,” what happens to the money currently spent on “education”? Remember the shell game the pols played on us with the lottery’s inception?
To his credit, the Mayor says that he will spend some of the early casino revenue on paying down bills. But then all the Chicago school money, as he pledges, will go the schools. But a few years of paying down bills is not going to solve the city’s fiscal problems; it won’t even make much of a dent. And, again, “money for the schools” can mean anything a politician can get by an inattentive public.
It gets worse. Politicians make spending commitments based on casino revenue that is far from a sure bet. Casino revenues can fall (We have to reach the saturation point some time…don’t we?), but the commitments continue. Funding for those ongoing commitments then come out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
Giving politicians more money to spend on their campaign contributors never solved anything, especially in this state; ironically, it only digs us into a deeper fiscal hole. Here’s hoping that a gullible public does not fall for the “education” song and dance. Note that I said “hoping,” not “predicting.”