THIS RECESSION will mean a leaner Christmas for many. But those many don't include those in the state Legislature.
In fact, our lawmakers can go to bed on Christmas Eve dreaming of a million sugarplums safely stuffed in their stockings, if a new casino bill passes that will give the state control over the local share of money generated by table games like poker and blackjack.
Senate Bill 711, which reforms some of the original gaming bill, also legalizes table games. In addition to a 14 percent tax that goes to the state, it imposes a 2 percent local-share tax on casino operators that could bring in $3.6 million per year from the city's casinos (once they open). In the original gaming bill, a portion of the slots revenue goes directly to the local municipalities that host the casinos. Under a proposal by Sen. Larry Farnese and Rep. Mike O'Brien, table games' local share would be overseen and distributed by the Department of Community and Economic Development - also known as the department that administers legislative WAMs, or "walking around money."
Half of the money would be used for projects for businesses and nonprofits within 1.5 miles of the two casinos. The other half would go to government agencies and nonprofits citywide through grants awarded by DCED.
This is at least an improvement from lawmakers' being able to funnel the money directly to their pet causes, as some have attempted to do.
Sen. Farnese argues convincingly that some money should be earmarked for the communities most directly affected by the casinos, and his proposal does that. But the city should not be cut out of having a say over the disposition of the rest. (The city is arguing that all the money should go to the general fund.)
For one thing, the city administers the services that can help mitigate the effects of casinos, like police and trash pickup. The DCED, while in the business of issuing grants, would be doing it on a case- by-case basis, with no overall strategy - and with no input from citizens. Plus, the influence that state lawmakers have over those grants is undeniable.
State lawmakers may have insight into the needs of their districts, but it's the job of local government to see that the city as a whole benefits.
The state has imposed gambling on the citizens of this city. Now it's exerting its control over how the city spends the revenue. To that we say:
"Please, Sir, can we have some more?" *