Gambling fails as source for school funds

Sebelius-backed measure may resurface

? Despite pressure from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a move to expand gambling failed in the Senate on Thursday, which also throws into limbo proposed public school funding increases.

“We were hoping to be able to utilize this for education,” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said of gambling revenue. “We’ll have to find another way to do it.”

He added it’s possible gambling will come up again.

“Even though it’s late in the session, nothing is ever dead,” Morris said.

The bill that would’ve allowed slot machines at tracks and the construction of two resort-type casinos died 16-20 with four senators passing.

One of those was Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, who has voted against expansion of gambling in the past.

She was called on the telephone by Sebelius, a fellow Democrat, while on the floor of the Senate just before a vote on the bill.

“There are two very reasonable sides,” Francisco said later. “We really do need to find a way to fund education,” she said.

But Francisco said she didn’t believe the measure before the Senate was the right one.

“I don’t feel this is the last time we will vote on this issue,” she said.

For Senate leadership, the vote was a setback. All session long, observers have been handicapping whether there were 21 votes in the 40-member Senate to get a gambling bill out of the chamber for the first time in more than a decade.

How area senators voted on SB 587 to expand gambling

Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, Pass

Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, No

Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, Yes

Supporters touted the measure as a way to pay for court-ordered school funding, capture gambling revenue exported to neighboring states and reduce property taxes.

“I just cant get over entertainment dollars, hemorrhaging, flowing out of our state in such record numbers,” Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kan., said.

Opponents said it would increase social problems, suck discretionary spending from the economy and reduce Kansas morals.

“This is an issue that is about addiction, an issue that is about corruption, an issue that is about money,” state Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, said. “This is an open door policy to Kansas for corruption.”

But Haley said that while he believed gambling was “one of the most venal of sins,” he added, “its not for me to determine how adults … should spend their money.”

Backers said the bill would generate $152.5 million in the next fiscal year, and increase to about $200 million per year with the opening of casinos in Kansas City, Kan., and southeast Kansas.

The measure also called for the installation of 5,000 slot machines to be divided among pari-mutuel horse and dog tracks in Frontenac, Kansas City, Wichita and Dodge City, if that town constructs a track.

Under pressure from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase school funding, methods to pay for education plans, some as high as $660 million over the next three years, came up often during the debate.

“By 2008, we’re going to be engulfed in hundreds of millions of dollars of red ink,” said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. “If gambling is not the way to solve the problem, then tell me what your way is.”

But Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said, “I will not be driven to vote for a gambling bill because of that court across the street.”

Under the bill, the casinos would have been owned by the state but operated by private companies paying a $35 million upfront licensing fee. The tracks would pay $15,000 upfront per slot machine, but the state would subtract that amount over five years from what the tracks owe the state.

The measure included a moratorium on additional slot machines or casinos for five years. It dedicated 75 percent of the state’s share of the new revenue to public schools, and the rest would have been used to reduce property taxes in cities and counties.