Sadly, government can't seem to get anything right
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

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 own.

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 covered elsewhere.

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 insurance benefits.

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 2 is destroying local schools, the fact is that public education in Massachusetts rates very high compared to most of the rest of the country.

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.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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