Pony-ing up for schools is just a bad bet

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

If there’s one pure example this election season of  crony capitalism, it must be pony-parlay-panacea: Amendment 68.

It seems as though we have people all across the state really jonesing to place a bet on the ponies or reach a back door deal with Joey Bagadonuts’ employers — all under the only reason to pass more laws: “Helping the children.”

Many of the same folks who scoff at endless government “investments” in infrastructure, roads, schools, etc. are all lined up for the unalienable right to own a casino. That is, pardon the pun, if one is on the inside track. We all know there’s no such thing as “shovel ready projects” for infrastructure. We all know the quality job our different levels of government does on our roads (except for the advertising signs that say “Brought to you by Obama”, those are stellar). And we have seen lottery after lottery have little to no affect on our schools and parks when compared to the promises of the politicians and supporters. So why would Amendment 68 be any different?

I’m sure you all know the gist of the amendment, we pass it and schools magically get $114 million per year from some casino in Aurora. I say magic because the amendment says, “UP TO $114 million.” Now it’s beginning to sound like Amendment 64, and we all know how the expectations of that amendment went up in smoke. And do you really think the casino cares where the $114 million goes? It also talks about how $25 million will be available right away. Well, yes, that’s the cost of the license fee charged by Don Colorado to go into the casino business. Just think, if one only had $25 million lying around, we could own a casino as well!

Well, that’s not true. Because if there’s one thing government does well, it’s kill competition. In spite of Amendment 68’s supporters saying it will bring “competition” to Colorado’s casino market, the amendment does the opposite. The $25 million is so only select folks can pay Caesar Colorado the tribute to operate casinos. And it’s limited to THREE! That’s insulting and laughable.

My questions are these. If casino tax revenue — or vice revenue for everything else — is indeed the answer to funding every need in all of our schools (or vices for everything else), why does the government limit the ability to open your vice business of choice while selecting  the winners? Why does it take a $25 million tribute to open a casino? Why doesn’t the government just allow anyone who has a few bucks in their pocket to take on the role of the house and take a roll of the dice to make a few bucks for themselves? Is the tax revenue of a thousand basement casinos not as important as a guaranteed $25 million from a crony? Why is it any business of the state of Colorado just who owns a casino or racetrack (or sin-tax based) business?

We all know the answers. If you need more proof of why this amendment should go the way of Old Paint, ask one last question. Why are these three special interest casinos willing to pay not only $25 million up front but also TWICE the going tax rate to open? Obviously, the government can extort ridiculous fees to those wanting to open, and those owners are willing to pay because both sides stand to make a butt-load of money. And that’s all both entities are about. While the tax cost makes it difficult enough for anyone to get into the business, the amendment makes it impossible. This is the kind of deal that would make a Wall Street insider blush.

I’ve been asked inane questions as to why I refuse to support this amendment. “Are you anti-gambling?” “Are you against economic development?” And there’s the oft-used “How do you not understand?” I simply reply, why do you think the government has the right to say who owns a casino and who doesn’t and why do you think the government will do a better job of funding schools with this money than it does now? The answers are it shouldn’t and it won’t. Just look at the spending disparity we have today between Mesa County School District 51 and the Front Range. Do you think $114 million made available to politicians in the general fund (because that’s what they will do, subtract the exact same amount from the fund this silliness raises) will be handled better or still used for education? And just how long will the utopia last considering they’re closing casinos in Atlantic City?

Finally, my newspaper was offered an ad buy from Amendment 68 supporters, and I gave them the going rate for political advertising. It was inferred at the time some positive editorial would be nice. I told them that would be inappropriate and they could write a letter to the editor. Then I spoke out against Amendment 68 on Facebook. Oddly, the ad offer went away. I guess even my conservative friends are surprised there are other opinions.

We all pay a price for crony capitalism. Mine was an ad contract and the continuing ridicule of some “conservative” insiders in Mesa County.  And probably a letter to the editor.