REMEMBER when Harrisburg pitched legalized gambling? It went like this:
“People are going out of state to gamble anyway; why not keep their money here? We’ll use the proceeds to lower school property taxes!”
The first flaw in this idea? It was the legislator’s umpteenth effort to avoid facing their historic and abject failure to properly fund public education in the first place. Lowering school district property taxes shouldn’t be an issue because the state should be providing a bigger share of the costs up front, eliminating the “education by geography” conundrum.
Live in an affluent district and your child likely goes to a state-of the art facility with top teachers and technology. Live in a high-poverty district and your lucky they keep the lights on and textbooks up to date.
But the bigger flaw was on full display Wednesday when the Commonwealth Financing Authority doled out this year’s allotment of gaming revenue. In Luzerne County, 37 projects nabbed a total of $12.5 million.
While the projects may be worthy, a few points:
- Note that, in an article in The Times Leader Thursday, many grant recipients said the amount received would not actually pay for the entire intended project. The money is always spread around in true political sausage-making tradition, intended more to marginally appease voters rather than to accomplish goals.
- Note some worthy projects were bypassed completely, including preserving Wilkes-Barre’s Irem Temple, another architectural jewel slowly sliding toward the wrecking ball due to lack of money and will to save our past.
- Most importantly, note that none of that money went to education or property tax reduction. It is a safe bet that $12.5 million spread among Luzerne County’s 11 school districts could have wiped out most, if not all, looming property tax increases.
Even if the money isn’t used for property tax reduction or education in general, it seems fair to question the value of spreading it like too little icing on too big a cake. It’s time for Harrisburg to take a hard look at the use of gaming revenue.
Have all the small grants over the years had any real impact? How many projects were started with gaming money but never finished because it wasn’t enough and no other money was found? Is it possible that fewer, larger grants could provide more bang for the buck?
The economy is still anemic and money is tight. It’s a good time to ask the question: Is gaming revenue producing winners, or being tossed away in a political crapshoot?