The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission was appointed in
2004 to address the state's infrastructure needs. And Gov. Deval Patrick
has been thinking about the casino issue since his inauguration.
So the commission and the governor release their findings on closing the
transportation funding gap and casino gambling, respectively, at the
exact same time Monday afternoon.
A coincidence? Apparently not. Our choice is supposed to be: Casino
gambling, or a huge gas-tax increase, more tolls, and mandatory GPS
tracking of our every driving mile.
Keep in mind that unless we all become compulsive gamblers, the casinos
will not generate the billions the commission says is needed for
infrastructure repair and maintenance - especially since Gov. Patrick
also wants to spend part of the gaming revenue on property tax relief,
more police to deal with a gambling culture, local aid to offset a
potential loss in lottery revenue, and programs to help people deal with
their gambling addictions.
Before everyone gets all excited about his "property tax relief" pledge
all over again, we need to see how that will work, exactly.
The initial proposal is for a property tax credit for people who pay 2.5
percent of their income or more in property taxes. Will our local tax
collector need our income tax forms?
Meanwhile, the Transportation Finance Commission is recommending: an
increase in the gas tax, initially from 23.5 cents to 35 cents a gallon,
then annual increases to account for inflation; increased and
inflation-adjusted MBTA fares; new tolls; and something called "direct
road-user fees." And, here's the good part: 22 reforms including the end
of police details on state road and bridge projects, and changes in
transportation employee pensions and health-care benefits which are
currently, according to the commission, "the most generous in the
The report ends with "a call to action. These recommendations need to be
discussed and debated. We encourage the citizenry either to accept these
steps or to offer other measures equal to the task."
OK. We accept the reform steps first. Right now, pass and sign into law
legislation ending the police details and extraordinary benefits. Throw
in similar reforms on these issues at the local government level.
Then we can talk about the other steps. When the reforms are passed, it
will be easier to determine the amount of new revenues actually needed
for our infrastructure problem. It will also be easier to listen to a
governor and legislators who finally stood up to the public employee
unions on behalf of the taxpayers. They need to fear us voters more than
they fear the unions.
When you are told that the tax hike must be passed immediately, keep
this in mind: The last time there was a major gas-tax increase for the
crumbling infrastructure, most of the money was diverted by the Dukakis
administration to other state programs, which is why we still have the
In the summer of 1990, the legislation that "froze" the income-tax
rollback, decreased the personal exemption, and created a tax on sick,
elderly people in nursing homes, also increased the gas tax. Of that
amount, $120 million was appropriated directly to the state public works
department to be used to leverage federal matching funds for road and
The January/February 1991 update from the American Automobile
Association complained that after "a dazzling series of cuts, transfers
and reallocations - not to mention 'freezing' $89 million to help offset
the (state budget) deficit - only $7.4 million of the original $120
million remained. The state now says that since it no longer has the
cash, it'll have to borrow the money needed for roadwork."
The lesson learned from history, drivers: Don't believe politicians who
tell you that you must pay more at the pump "for the infrastructure."
You can't ever get a guarantee that the money won't be diverted, but
this year at least, you can demand reforms in the transportation system
before you roll over for the tax hike.
The governor is now telling us that allowing three casinos will cancel
the need for new taxes. But the math doesn't work, so we need to discuss
the casino issue separately from the infrastructure issue.
This is much harder. Citizens for Limited Taxation, for instance, had no
problem determining its "reform first" position on the Transportation
Finance Commission's recommendations. But our three directors have
conflicting opinions on casino gambling.
Chip Faulkner is opposed, arguing that all the worst aspects of the
gambling culture are guaranteed to thrive in Massachusetts. Chip Ford
takes the libertarian position that the government has no business
forbidding the gaming business from operating anywhere it owns land, and
the practical position that there's no point in letting gambling money
go to Connecticut when we could keep the money here. I sit in the
middle, undecided, which doesn't happen often.
Returning to the "reform first" theme: I'd like to see reforms related
to this issue, too, reassuring concerned citizens about the societal
impact of casinos. We'll need tougher drunken driving laws; police taken
off special details and assigned to vice squads; judges who are tougher
on criminals; and a government commitment to the concept of personal
responsibility. Then we'll talk.
The Salem News
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Done right, casino gambling can fund road repairs,
allow property tax relief
By Deval Patrick
For weeks I have carefully considered whether we should expand gaming in
Massachusetts. After thoroughly reviewing the arguments and the analysis
on both sides of the issue, I believe authorizing three resort casinos
will have significant economic benefits to Massachusetts.
Done the right way, resort casinos can play a useful part, along with
other initiatives in life sciences, renewable energy and education
reform, in providing our commonwealth with sustainable, long-term
Three high-quality, resort casinos would generate over $2 billion
annually in new economic activity, bolster tourism to the Bay State,
create over 20,000 permanent new jobs at good wages and benefits, and
engage the services of over 30,000 construction workers. That kind of
economic activity spurs the sale of other goods and services, creating a
jobs multiplier effect within our local economy.
Economic growth is critical in order for us to deal honestly and
responsibly with the neglect of the past 16 years.
Our roads and bridges need billions of dollars of repairs and ongoing
maintenance. We must reform our education system to prepare young people
for the competitive challenges of our global economy, and continue to
position Massachusetts for the jobs of the 21st century. And we must
accomplish all this without putting an unfair burden on those in our
community who have been hit hard by rising property taxes over the past
The only way to meet these responsibilities fairly and equitably is to
advance initiatives that will provide long-term, sustainable economic
growth. Destination resort casinos can serve a useful role in our
overall economic development plan.
I did not come to this decision lightly. If we proceed down this path,
we must ensure that we adhere to sound economic, public safety and
public health principles, as well as develop a strong oversight and
enforcement mechanism for casinos.
To that end, we will limit the number of casinos to three, and ensure
that they are destination resort casinos and not "racinos." The fewer
the number, the more likely we are to maximize their economic benefits
and tax revenues. At the same time, it is important to allocate these
opportunities equitably around the commonwealth in order to attract
tourists and residents from different regions of New England and beyond.
We will also regulate resort casinos professionally and independent of
politics. The auctioning of the casino licenses must be an open and
transparent process, overseen by financial experts and free from any
political interference. Oversight and regulation of resort casinos
should be entrusted to an independent authority, while enforcement
should be the responsibility of a new division within the Attorney
General's office. All costs related to regulation and enforcement will
be born by an assessment on the casinos themselves.
We will also provide significant resources to mitigate any anticipated
social costs. Specifically, we will set aside a portion of the casino
revenue in a separate trust account for programs to prevent and treat
compulsive gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, and other related
public-health concerns, so that we can address and monitor the impact on
people for whom gambling is more than harmless entertainment. I have
asked my secretaries of Health and Human Services and Public Safety to
design best-in-the-nation programs to address these issues, and the
percentage of gaming revenues dedicated to supporting these programs
will be among the highest of any in the country. In addition, we will
also set aside a portion of money for host and surrounding communities
who bear the burden associated with any significant increase in people
Finally, we will dedicate the revenue from resort casinos toward
repairing our roads, rails and bridges, as well as toward a significant
property tax credit program for homeowners.
Our roads, rails, buses and bridges are showing the effects and results
of over 16 years of neglect by previous administrations. Without better
and safer roads and bridges, we compromise our economic future and our
quality of life. By investing a significant portion of the resort casino
revenue toward improving roads, we accelerate the growth in economic
opportunities in every region, ensure the safety of our public roads and
bridges, and address effectively one of the greatest fiscal challenges
we face - without an increase in the gas tax.
The remaining resort casino revenue will be distributed to homeowners
across the state in the form of an income tax credit to offset property
tax bills. Families, seniors and young people trying to settle in our
state face rapidly escalating property taxes. Indeed, these new
resources provide us the opportunity to deliver property tax credits
directly to homeowners and thereby help to lessen the burden of property
taxes on working families in the commonwealth.
Needless to say, our way forward does not and should not depend on the
governor's views alone. The Legislature will have to enact new laws to
make this vision a reality. The needs and wishes of affected communities
must be heard. No resort casino should be sited before receiving a
transparent, engaged public review.
If we proceed under these conditions, with care and transparency, I
believe destination resort casinos can bring significant economic
benefits to the commonwealth, and become a part of our overall plan for
long-term, sustainable economic growth. Done the right way, resort
casinos can become one of the many reasons why Massachusetts is an
international destination for travelers and tourists, and a wonderful
place to live.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.