Saturday, August 30, 2008

Casino interests change committee name

The Yes for Schools First Committee is a thing of the past.

Missouri Ethics Commission documents filed Aug. 21 show the committee pushing for the removal of loss limits and the elimination of competition for casinos has changed its name to Yes on A Coalition.

The committee is pushing the passage of Proposition A, the so-called Schools First Initiative in November.

Though the casino interests are trying to sell Missourians on this proposition by linking it with schools, I described the effort this way in the May 3 Turner Report:

One of the biggest fictions that continues to be foisted upon the public is the idea that gambling money can solve all of the problems with school funding.

According to the advertising when Missourians approved a state lottery, that money was going to save the schools. Of course, the money was never designated for the schools, but was placed in general revenue. If the money had been targeted to schools, undoubtedly legislators would have cut the amount going into education from general revenue.

Every few years, those who want to increase gambling in this state, use education as a way to overcome resistance to the idea...and it is happening again.

The gambling interests never use names like "More Gambling in Missouri" or "A Sucker Born Every Minute" for their "grass roots" groups. The latest one, registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission on Dec. 21, 2007, is the Yes for Schools First Coalition.

The Coalition, which has been operating under the radar since that time (except for Arch City Chronicle and some in the blogosphere) appears to have landed enough signatures to allow Missourians to vote on removing loss limits from casinos, purportedly to pour those extra dollars into education.

Since this is a coalition designed to bring funding to education, you might expect to see those with a stake in education- parents, teachers, administrators, education interest groups lining up to back this initiative.

Missouri Ethics Commission documents paint a different picture.

The coalition's most recent disclosure report, filed April 15, shows $1,427,700 in contributions. Not one cent came from anyone associated with education. In fact, the funding came from only two sources- $835,700 from Ameristar Casinos and $592,00 from Pinnacle Entertainment.

This was the news release issued by the coalition Friday:

The YES for Schools First Coalition today submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State more than 160,000 voter signatures on petitions for the Schools First Initiative – far more than the approximately 92,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the November 2008 statewide ballot.

“We’re pleased that Missouri voters have shown strong support for our measure,” said the group’s spokesperson, Anne Marie Moy. “The Schools First Initiative provides vitally needed new funds to Missouri schools by increasing the state taxes paid by casinos. It prohibits the legislature from using the casino taxes dedicated to education for any other purpose. It also protects thousands of local jobs and our state economy, by ensuring that Missouri casinos can compete for visitors on an equal basis with casinos in neighboring states.”

The Schools First Initiative will provide more than $100 million per year in new funds for elementary and secondary schools statewide by increasing the state tax paid by riverboat casinos to 21% and by eliminating Missouri’s $500 loss limit. The measure requires annual audits by the State Auditor to ensure that all casino tax revenues dedicated to education are used only for school funding and are not used to replace or supplant other education funds.

By eliminating Missouri’s outdated loss limit, which no other state imposes, the initiative will ensure that Missouri can compete for casino visitors on a level playing field. The initiative also prevents oversaturation of the in-state casino market by limiting the number of Missouri casinos to those already built or under construction.

The Schools First Initiative is supported by the YES for Schools First Coalition, which includes Missouri teachers and parents, and community and business leaders. The initiative also is endorsed by the Missouri Gaming Association, the organization which represents all casino companies operating in Missouri.

Reading the news release reminded me of the infamous Lamar con artist James R. Montgomery, who attempted to run a canned food drive, allegedly to benefit the needy, and advertised that he would have a particular church and the Boy Scouts helping him. The Lamar Police Department checked and found the school had nothing to do with the drive and neither did the Scouts. When I questioned him about the drive, he said it was all a misunderstanding. He never said the church was involved with the drive, just some church members, and he had never mentioned the Boy Scouts participating, just some members of the Boy Scouts. The canned food drive was canceled.

In this case, the coalition claims to consist of Missouri teachers and parents, but the coalition's website does not contain any evidence of that.

From its name, the Schools First initiative sounds like an answer to all of our problems of education funding, but when you pull the curtain aside, this is a welfare proposal for the gambling industry.

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