At first I was conflicted on the state gambling
issue. Sometimes I get in libertarian mode and start my thinking
with the phrase "in a free world..."
In a free world, people who want to open a casino, put slot machines
in their clubs, or even have a little dice game on the town common,
can do so without having to get permission from the state
government. The role of that body is only to make sure the games
aren't rigged, that the winnings are paid, that thugs don't kneecap
someone who owes them money from a loss, and that hard-drinking
gamblers don't drive.
Free people who choose to gamble do so at their own financial risk.
They are warned in advance that taxpayers will not bail them out or
take responsibility for their neglected family. The odds are against
them, so they may have to get in line at the food bank and soup
kitchen with everyone else.
I also note that legalized gambling worked well in Nevada as a way
of funding government for quite awhile, until the recession hurt the
gaming industry there.
But then I return from Fantasyland. First, this isn't a free-world
commonwealth. And second, what worked in Nevada won't work here,
because nothing works here for long.
Nevada used gaming revenues instead of a state income tax to run a
relatively small government, with a part-time citizen legislature.
Gambling revenues here would be piled onto the fifth highest
per-capita tax burden in the country, funding our ongoing full-time,
"professional" legislature, which would soon have all its relatives
on the casino payrolls getting lifetime pensions and health care
after 20 years. Whitey Bulger would have to return from retirement
to loan money to the gambling addicts.
Crime-wise, we'd be a lot more like New Jersey than Nevada.
Also, taxpayers would soon be paying for programs for gambling
addicts, as well as housing for their impoverished families, while
providing subsidized chips for poor people who can't afford their
Better to leave well enough alone and let gamblers be satisfied with
standing in line at the convenience store for their scratch tickets.
Unfortunately the unions that ran the worst campaign in ballot
history against the abolition of greyhound racing — focusing on
themselves instead of voter concern about the greyhounds — will be
left in unemployment lines if the gambling bill fails. The campaign
ads opposing abolition of greyhound racing should have said, "The
accusations are false; the dogs are happy!" instead of "What about
my union job?"
If it makes them feel any better, they wouldn't have gotten the new
casino jobs anyhow unless they had legislative connections.
One more thing: The new gambling revenues, should they materialize,
would be wasted along with our tax dollars, just like now.
In the past, Massachusetts has had some good ideas. I remember when
Gov. Ed King and the Boston business community just wanted to build
a little tunnel to the airport.
More recently, there was a fairly sensible plan to get everyone
covered by health insurance. Politicians celebrated a new law that
required all of us to be covered, but promised basic plans that
anyone could afford, and a state subsidy for those few who weren't
But they never got around to the affordability part, soon wiping out
the very basic plans with mandated benefits. A hard-working laborer
was telling me this week about his effort to get insured after he
was fined by the state for noncompliance.
After filling out all the paperwork to be accepted for the state
program, he lost his low-income job and went on unemployment. So
they rejected his paperwork and told him he'd have to apply for the
subsidy that goes with unemployment, instead of low income. He knows
that when he finds another job he'll have to start filling out forms
all over again.
Meanwhile, inevitably, as premiums climb, employers who once offered
health insurance are dropping it and sending employees to the
subsidized state system. Hey, didn't see that coming!
In between the Big Dig and the health insurance debacle, there was
the Education Reform law of 1993. To the surprise of many of us, it
actually seemed to be working, albeit with billions of additional
taxpayer dollars earmarked for education, much of which was spent on
teacher raises, pensions and extraordinarily generous health
But at least in return for this huge expenditure, we got charter
schools and the MCAS, which began to hold school systems accountable
for student performance.
Though people are accustomed to hearing that Proposition 2½ is
destroying local schools, the fact is that public education in
Massachusetts rates very high compared to most of the rest of the
So who ya gonna call to mess it up? Why not Washington, D.C.?
Last week Governor Patrick decided to substitute federal education
standards for our own, successful state program. After all, nothing
succeeds like the federal government — look at the economy, Fannie
Mae and other regulation, various recent wars, immigration policy,
response to national disasters, etc. And Uncle Sam has the debt to
prove its success.
Too bad we're going to gamble on our kids' education by turning it
over to the feds.