There’s no doubt you’ve seen numerous television ads claiming that a vote for Question 7 is a vote for thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding. It sounds like a great deal for Maryland, if only it were true.
Numerous independent media fact checks have found that reality doesn’t match the rhetoric, one even concluding these promises are “blatantly misleading.” Even the state of Maryland’s own data directly contradicts some of the claims.
The truth is there are no guarantees Question 7 will create any new jobs or increase education funding. The only thing a vote for Question 7 guarantees is that a bunch of multi-millionaire casino owners will receive a huge taxpayer-funded bailout.
In order to get existing and prospective casino operators on board with gaming expansion, Maryland’s legislature and governor enacted permanent, double-digit tax cuts for all casinos in Maryland. These massive tax-breaks came just three months after the state raised taxes on hundreds of thousands of Maryland workers and families, citing operating deficits and the need for sacrifice.
Proponents claim that a vote for Question 7 will create up to 12,000 jobs, but the Maryland Department of Legislative Services determined only 2,240 positions would be generated. Casino advocates also claim the project would create 2,000 construction jobs.
But, again, this is very misleading.
Even if these jobs actually came to fruition, they would be largely closed to the Maryland workforce because National Harbor’s developer has indicated he will sign a Project Labor Agreement favoring union contractors. Since only 11 percent of the state’s construction workforce belongs to a union, signing such an agreement could sideline more than 130,000 qualified Maryland workers from these jobs. During the special session this summer, an amendment that would allow all Maryland workers access to National Harbor construction jobs was killed in the House of Delegates.
Proponents of Question 7 also claim that a “yes” vote will result in “hundreds of millions” of dollars for Maryland schools. Unfortunately, once again, this claim is distorted.
There are no guarantees in Question 7 that Maryland schools would see a single dime of any revenues produced by a new casino. It is true that funds from a new casino, like all others in Maryland, would be placed in our Education Trust Fund (ETF), but the legislature has long used ETF funds for anything other than education, simply budgeting less money for education in its general fund and moving in gaming revenue from the ETF.
This shell game hides the fact that no new money goes to classrooms across the state. These are not assumptions – in fiscal year 2011, $350 million was raided from the ETF, and there is little doubt this pattern will continue in the years to come. If the legislatures were serious about funding the Education Trust Fund, why was this money not ‘Restricted’ for Education Only.
The truth is that yes, Maryland could have recouped millions of dollars a year from neighboring states such as West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania by simply adding table games to the existing casino locations, which many of voters may have supported. Instead, they chose to provide massive tax cuts for most of the casinos, resulting in 72 percent of gaming revenues staying with casino billionaires instead of the 33 percent that voters approved in 2008.
Restated, 72 percent of gaming revenues will stay with casino operators while only 28 percent will be held by the State of Maryland if voters approve Question 7.
The lack of transparency surrounding Question 7 should also give voters pause. For most of this year, Prince Georges County refused to respond to public information requests on its negotiations and deliberations for a National Harbor casino and to this day have not provided those documents. The few documents they did provide included assertions that the promise of gaming revenue for Prince George’s non-profits and churches could in fact buy down or buy off their potential opposition to gaming in the county.
At the state level, the General Assembly rammed through gaming legislation in just over a week, subjecting it to far less scrutiny than it deserved. Why was Prince George’s County willing to give millions of dollars to the other casinos from their 5 percent local impact fee, leaving the casino operators money untouched? Why isn’t the casino operator made to pay for the required upgrades to the Interstate 495 and Hwy 210 instead of the taxpayers? The lack of transparency and apparent backroom dealing gives the impression of impropriety and should give voters pause.
Question 7 is a great deal for casino special interests, but it’s a “bad deal” for Maryland residents, taxpayers, workers and families.
We urge you to vote against Question 7 on Tuesday, November 6th.
And take our poll on the right side of the homepage. You might be surprised who is winning.