The perils of state-run gaming, and an endorsement for the 25th District

There is certainly a great deal happening in CPS right now. Much to pay attention to! We've got new CEO Janice Jackson trying to deal with the fallout from the previous CEO's special education funding-revamp chicanery. We have a series of ongoing hearings about the latest round of school closing plans (and I use the term loosely) for the very successful NTA and all of the high schools in Englewood, the most recent of which involved the requisite "rowdy shouting" and, I think it would be safe to say, a failure to communicate. There's some dubious board of ed shuffling. And don't forget Rauner's recent veto of the school funding bill he's been sitting on for months, never indicating he was going to veto it. Then there's the accompanying press conferences, protests, meetings, and hearings concerning all these things, that you could go to practically every single day. Or twice a day. We parents and public education advocates are busy, busy, busy. I'll fill you in on some of these stories soon.

Meantime, it's also election season. Folks are in the thick of campaigns for governor, Cook County Commissioner, Attorney General, and the Illinois general assembly, among others. If you're so inclined, you could be phone banking, door knocking, donating to campaigns, and holding or attending forums where you meet candidates. There's a lot for us to do, we who care about our fragile democracy.

Thursday night I attended one such candidate forum for the 25th District, put on by the good folks of People United for Action. We have 8 candidates for Barbara Flynn Currie's seat in a district that snakes down the lakefront from North Kenwood all the way to Wolf Lake. Every single candidate to represent this vast diverse area is passionate, competent, and skilled. Also, to my great joy, and surely yours too, every single one of them strongly favors an elected school board for CPS. I was grateful to hear that.

A question for the candidates that caught me off guard concerned gaming as a viable source of state revenue. It's not really something that's currently in the news. I mean, we all know Illinois Is Broke, or whatever, and We Need Better Funding Sources, but the gambling thing hasn't much been a part of recent conversation.

I have written about gaming as a source of revenue before. Years ago, Rahm released a video about how great it will be when city-run casinos fund our glorious schools. It gave me a crickly feeling, kind of a deja-vu, watching that video, because the rhetoric in the video was exactly that used to push the lottery into Illinois in 1985. You remember--the lottery funds the schools?

Except it doesn't. Here's the link to the piece if you care to click to it; if you don't, the quick takeaway is that almost every state that has instituted a lottery to fund their schools has reduced school spending. And lottery revenues have ended up covering a fraction of total annual school budgets. In Illinois, money from the lottery is is not added to state funding, it replaces state funding. The lottery has not worked as promised, issuing in glorious billions favoring our public schools--they're more underfunded than ever. By now, all the shimmer is--or surely ought to be--well off that rusty pot of fool's gold.

So you can see that because of this long term interest of mine, my ears perked up when I heard this question at the 25th District candidate forum: Are you for or against gambling as a source of state revenue?

One candidate after another explained that gambling would be a good source of revenue if it was heavily regulated, and profits from it could fund everything from mental health services to anti-gambling-addiction campaigns. I was dumbstruck. Did folks not know this lottery history? Did they not worry about graft, profiteers, and misuse of funds? Did they not have the slightest concern that raising money off the backs of the desperate and the compulsive gambler was a dubious business for the state?

Nah.

Only one candidate spoke out against the use of gambling to increase state revenue--Grace Chan McKibben, whom I've known for many years and is a fellow Hyde Parker and longtime CPS parent. I did not know this particular thing about her position, nor did I suspect that every one of her fellow candidates would blithely accept state-run gambling as a decent idea. But when I heard this question and all eight answers, I found my candidate.

There are a few ways to keep public services, including public education, in the hands of the public. One of the main ones is to maintain truly public and fair tax policy. State-run gambling as a revenue source is a Hail Mary pass of a plan that trades responsible tax policy for one that banks on human weakness, introduces a whole host of new costs, lets corporations off the hook, and generates diminishing returns over time. We know from experience that one thing gaming as a state revenue source does not do is provide the revenue expected and required for the state-run programs and services it's intended to support.

25th District voters, I am endorsing Grace Chan McKibben for her support of a fully elected school board and her nuanced understanding that some sources of revenue are just not worth it. And all of you CPS parents and public education supporters in the other Chicago legislative districts, press your candidates on the obvious--whether they support an elected school board, and the not-so-obvious--whether or not they support state-run gaming as a revenue source. Our schools--and all the rest of our public institutions--are counting on us to get this right.

For further reading:
on government's predatory role as gambling promoter and marketer
on gambling as an indicator of the state giving up on its public institutions
on casinos being particular money losers for states according to this wonktastic data set
on how lotteries operate in lieu of real tax policy and fail 
on the decline in economic benefit of gambling over time and the implications for states

Follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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