Lousy roll of quarters

Columnist : Albert Paschall

It’s that time of the year again. I’m getting ready to make my annual donation of a roll of quarters to some casino in Atlantic City. Generally it’s Harrah’s but their slot machines don’t really take quarters anymore and for me that takes the fun out of it.

Based on what the Governor said I thought by now I could keep my roll of quarters in Pennsylvania. But it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do that until next summer though I’m not sure I can afford to gamble in Pennsylvania. My roll of quarters won’t make much of a difference.

As opposed I guess to fake tax reform the Governor and the General Assembly have passed a plan that they call ‘real’ property tax reform in Pennsylvania. Seniors citizens in most areas will get between $150 to $200 a year in extra rebates to pay the ransom on their homes that the local school district demands. For that to happen casinos have to bring into Pennsylvania’s treasury a billion new dollars a year.

Don’t bet your home on getting the money anytime soon. ┬áConsidering that the plan is to license 14 gaming halls across the state that means that each one of them has to generate at least $71.5 million a year for the Governor’s property relief plan to work. To get that kind of take gambling halls will have to fork over a 33% of gross proceeds. Each slots parlor would have to ante up to about $214 million a year or a little better than $586,000 every day. For high rollers like me it still means 6,000 quarters an hour, with at least 25% of gamblers losing it all, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So my lousy roll of quarters isn’t going to make much of a difference but then neither will this lousy plan. Though its about what Pennsylvanians expected all along. In the Spring 2006 Pennsylvania Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research 74% of respondents answered no when asked: Do you expect projected revenue from the state’s slot machines to result in a decrease in your property taxes?

But like every tax equation there are two sides to it: income and expense. The president of the local school board put it best: “we’re concerned about mandates, about the cost of special education, the cost of cyber and charter schools. We can’t control some of these expenses.” Actually local school directors in Pennsylvania don’t control their budgets. In some cases 90% of spending will be controlled by mandates and labor agreements.

The confines of antiquated mandates can make serving as a school district director in Pennsylvania a thankless, winless job. Ideal reform in the state would be a strong parental school choice program. But the administration’s close ties to the state’s teachers unions make that proposition as likely as hitting a million bucks on a nickel slot machine. Someday this Governor could take another path. Remove all state mandates and allow local school boards to really run their districts including labor agreements and strike provisions. They wanted the job, let them do it

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.