A Shell Game

John J. Walters Sep 13, 2012

When we legalized gambling in Maryland, one of our major motivations was – ostensibly – to raise money for education. I believe the phrase “slots for tots” was tossed around, suggesting that it was all just “for the children.” We played a similar game with the increased alcohol tax. It was claimed that the money would be raised to help those with disabilities. But, as Marc has pointed out (repeatedly, actually), that’s not entirely true.

You see, our state government is remarkably good at playing shell games with our money.  They pledge to raise money for one thing, suggesting that by creating an additional revenue stream that overall funding will be increased. Instead, they simply subtract the same amount from what they used to contribute from the General Fund. In effect, it means no increase in funding for the special program and extra money for the state government to spend as they choose.

They’ve gotten so used to this tactic that they don’t even try to hide it anymore. Here’s a little snippet lifted from a Washington Examiner article on the subject:

A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said no one in the administration has ever suggested that increasing education funding from gambling would dictate how much the state spends on schools.

"The education costs grow every year for inflation, [a state law that requires increases in per-pupil spending] ... and also the geographic cost of education index," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "[Gambling] funds will be used to make sure we continue to meet those every year to keep pace with inflation and growing costs."

In other words: we’re not raising money to be added to existing education funding. We’re trying to create a specific source for existing education funding levels. The name of the game is replacement.

Perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised. Education spending has already been out of control in Maryland for several years. Legalizing gambling and taking the lion’s share of the profits for the Education Trust Fund might have been one of the only ways to keep pace with mandated spending increases each year. Besides, of course, cutting spending elsewhere – and we know how the O’Malley administration hates to do that.

Governor O’Malley always talks about how his team has “made the tough choices” year after year. In reality, though, he has found clever ways to raise taxes time and time again. He curries our favor by promising to spend the money “for the children” (or for the disabled), but then diverts previous funding channels elsewhere so that he can maintain his spending addiction.