Gov. Joan Finney wants to take a pretty big gamble with education in Kansas.
In her budget proposals, Finney plans to use income from increased gambling opportunities in the state to finance public schools and make lower local property taxes possible. Lowering property taxes is a noble goal, but making schools funding dependent on gambling funds seems like a risky business.
Finney specifically proposes adding video lottery games and riverboat gambling to the state's list of legal gambling opportunities. She estimates a video lottery would bring $50 million a year into the state treasury. But is that a reliable enough source of income for education, probably the state's single most important responsibility to its citizens?
A number of years ago, the Kansas Lottery and parimutuel betting were touted as great opportunities to boost the state budget. Yet the state Gaming Revenues Fund, which collects money from both sources, actually is projecting a decline in revenue for next year. It is estimated the lottery and parimutuel racing will bring in $28.2 million in 1993, down about $2.5 million from fiscal year 1992. Does that tell us anything about the reliability of gambling revenue? Neither the lottery nor racing has provided the kind of windfall their supporters claimed they would when voters were asked to approve their legalization.
In addition to the fiscal considerations, it's also appropriate for state residents to consider the philosophical questions of allowing more gambling opportunities in the state. Kansas certainly isn't the only state looking to legalized gambling as a quick fix to shore up its budget situation, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best action to take. In the long run, Kansas may regret having opened its doors to more gambling and the potential problems that come with it. It's a fairly well accepted fact that lotteries, casinos and race tracks tend to reap a large proportion of their revenue from people who are least able to afford it. There are a few winners, but most people lose.
The gamble for the state is twofold. If the state succeeds in attracting enough additional gambling revenue to actually provide the needed funding for public schools, it may have to deal with a whole raft of other problems ranging from increased crime to increased welfare demands. If, as seems more likely, the gambling revenue fails to rise to expectations, then the state's public schools will be the ones to suffer, and the tax burden may once again fall back on the property taxes.
Betting on additional gambling to support public schools would amount to putting a lot on the line against some pretty long odds.