Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Patrick pays a price for casino plan

I was unable to link to this wonderful editorial by a Casino Free Mass colleague and am therefore posting it here on the blog:

Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 21, 2008

Patrick pays a price for casino plan

State representatives from Hampshire and Franklin County deserve our thanks for helping to kill Gov. Deval Patrick's ill-conceived casino gambling proposal last month.

Despite intensive lobbying from the Patrick administration, organized labor, and the deep-pocketed casino industry, these local legislators stood up for the interests of their constituents and the larger commonwealth. When the House of Representatives finally voted on the governor's bill last month, the final vote was a decisive 108 to 46 to kill the proposal. Hampshire and Franklin County representatives were unanimous in voting 'no.'

As the date of the vote approached, this important policy debate was increasingly framed as a personal fight between the governor and House Speaker Sal DiMasi. There is no question that the vote did become personal. Patrick made the vote personal, and blamed its defeat on unseemly 'midnight machinations' and undue arm twisting on the part of DiMasi.

DiMasi wanted to kill the casino bill by a decisive margin. He let legislators know that he cared how they voted. DiMasi's personal efforts contributed to the overwhelming margin by which the casino bill was defeated.

But it is almost certain that the bill would have been soundly defeated had the speaker not raised a finger. For six full months the administration had lobbied to gain legislative support for the bill. Several local legislators commented to me that they had never been so actively courted by a governor or by top administration officials than they were on this issue.

Legislators considered the governor's arguments and found them wanting. The administration' s jobs and revenue numbers lacked credibility and were easily undermined by the highly respected Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Boston Globe, and legislators themselves.

What was Deval Patrick thinking? Why did the governor break with much of his political base, and his most consistent allies in the legislature, to become the number-one promoter for a predatory industry? Many political activists and ordinary voters have been puzzling over that question.

The obvious answers are jobs and revenue. There is no question that the construction of large casinos would have resulted in significant construction jobs. And one-time licensing fees would have brought badly needed revenues into state coffers. But at what cost? The social and economic costs have been well documented by the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, Casino Free Massachusetts, and other organizations. But consider for a moment the political costs to the governor.

There seem to be only a few in power who see the sea change in the state's gambling policy as a highly regressive revenue scheme…. 'Taxing the poor through casinos is cynical and cowardly. Let's all pay for fixing our roads and bridges. Such a fundamental governmental obligation shouldn't be used to justify a policy that will hurt many businesses and diminish even more lives in the commonwealth.' Those words could have been spoken by Deval Patrick,who as a candidate for governor refused to get on the tax-cutting bandwagon and who so eloquently reminded voters that they had a common stake in the commonwealth. But no, those words were written by the Boston Business Journal in a September 2007 editorial.

'If any industry wanted to come here and pollute our clean air or contaminate our rivers and streams, we would rise up to stop it - even if it would create thousands of new jobs. The cost of cleaning up the human devastation brought by casino gambling is too great.' Those words also could have been spoken by Deval Patrick. In fact, as a candidate for governor,Patrick expressed his opposition to casino gambling in Massachusetts . But no, those words were spoken by Sal DiMasi in a speech to business leaders.

It is up to us to help Deval Patrick recover his progressive voice- the voice that so many voters in Hampshire and Franklin counties responded to such a short time ago; the voice that got him elected governor. Far more difficult will be the task of regaining credibility with legislators and the broader public. Let us hope the governor rediscovers that voice in the coming months.

Leo Maley is the executive director of Progressive Massachusetts PAC and a board member of Casino Free Massachusetts. He lives in Amherst.


Mark Belanger said...

Leo is clearly a right-thinking individual and good progressive.

He should have his own blog - I'm surprised that he doesn't.

One of the things about the casino debate that never ceases to amaze me being a Democrat and a liberal .... that Democrats seem to be more in favor of casinos than Republicans. This is a general observation.

carverchick said...

It will be interesting to see if this casino plan comes back in the next legislative round. If Patrick really wants to regain his progressive voice and earn back some credibility, he needs to keep the casino plan buried and dead and move on to bigger and better things.

Anonymous said...

Hi All:

Now we need to kill the slot machine "racino" bill by Rep. Flynn. Also saw more bad revenue news from the Mashantucket Pequods on my favorite source for news of all things Gaming in Indian Country. Check it out.