July 16, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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Righting The Wrongs Of The “Slots For Tots” Promise

Peter Franchot
Peter Franchot's picture
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March 6, 2018

Back in 2007, I was still getting used to my new position as comptroller when momentum to legalize slot machine gambling intensified.

It was the depth of the recession, the state had a huge budget hole and lawmakers were desperate for more revenue to plug the gap. So, after years of rebuffing the call of the casino lobby, the General Assembly put the issue of legalizing slots to voters on a referendum.

Predictably, supporters claimed education would reap the windfall and there would be millions more in revenue for schools — thus the “slots for tots” phrase. At the time, I called it “a fiscal fairy tale” that would not produce one dollar of new spending for education.

Well, I hate to say I told you so.

Here we are, 10 years later, and the state’s casinos are taking in record revenues, but aid to education remains flat relative to enrollment growth. Where’s all that extra infusion of cash that slots-for-tots promised through the ironically named Education Trust Fund?

Simply put, the gaming proceeds supplanted, rather than supplemented, aid to schools. Money from the Education Trust Fund flowed in, while dollars previously directed to schools through the general fund were redirected to other state programs. It was a bait-and-switch that voters gambled on and lost.

(By the way, if this sounds familiar, the same thing happened when the state legalized the lottery and keno. Slots-for-tots is a time-honored and disingenuous strategy.)

But we have a chance to fix this.

Several weeks ago, I stood with Governor Hogan as he announced legislation to put a “lockbox” on the additional casino funds vowed for education, with 20 percent dedicated to school construction projects.

His plan would increase state spending on K-12 education by $4.4 billion over the next decade — similar to a plan put forward by Democratic legislators to put a lock on casino revenues — and use the money to bolster aid for schools. To be clear, I support any effort to fulfill the promise of the slots-for-tots propaganda.

If the casino revenues truly added to the bottom line on K-12 education spending, maybe we wouldn’t have read headlines about structurally unsafe buildings with mold or discolored drinking water, freezing or sweltering classrooms, and shortages of school supplies, textbooks and technology.

Our students, teachers and administrators deserve better.

Switching gears, with tax season well underway, one of my top priorities is to make sure your tax return is processed efficiently and quickly. For taxpayers owed a refund, the average length of time for a return to be processed and a refund issued is 2.1 business days. It’s your money after all!

But with tax season also comes those who want to steal your money. My Questionable Return Detection Team uses state-of-the-art technology to flag fraudulent filings. So far this tax season, my agency has stopped processing returns from 15 tax preparers in Maryland and beyond. Sadly, I expect that number to rise as tax season continues, but we’ll remain vigilant in our pursuit of tax cheats.

I urge hardworking Marylanders to be on the lookout for unscrupulous preparers. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you have any doubts about your tax preparer, don’t hesitate to call my office at 1-800-MD-TAXES or 410-260-7980 in Central Maryland or email taxhelp@comp.state.md.us. And continue to check www.marylandtaxes.com for the most up-to-date information.


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