ANNAPOLIS, Md -- Do we need a Constitutional Amendment to keep politician’s hands off the casino money that was supposed to go to our schools?
That’s one of the questions you may not have heard about on Maryland’s election ballot in a couple of weeks.
A decade ago, when supporters were pushing to legalize gambling in Maryland, they pitched it in commercial after commercial as a windfall for education. "Question 2 provides $660 million to fund education," several of the ads promised.
Perhaps no surprise, it didn't work out that way. "It was a fiscal fairytale. There was not going to be any EXTRA money for education," said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Like apples for teachers -- or maybe a lucky lineup on a slot machine -- most voters probably figured all the money would go to the schools. Instead, both Democratic and Republican administrations have diverted billions: $600 million gnawed off by Governor Martin O’Malley; $1.4 billion by Gov. Larry Hogan's administration.
The cash went into the general fund, to help pay for roads, police, even state worker salaries.
Bethesda mom and substitute teacher Deb Wells says she’s seen the cost of the missing money. "They have way too many kids," she said of the teacher They need smaller classroom sizes.
To fix it, Question 1 on Maryland’s November 6th ballot creates and education lockbox, requiring the state within five years to use 100 percent of its gambling money to INCREASE – not replace – the funding for schools.
"The Constitutional Amendment will put it in a lockbox that stays there and only goes to increase what comes into our schools," said Cheryl Bost, president of the teachers union, the Maryland State Education Association.
To the consternation of Democrats, the governor is now taking credit for a Constitutional Amendment he initially said was unnecessary. "I’m Larry Hogan. I want to take a minute in support of my important ballot initiative that requires casino revenue to be placed in a lockbox dedicated to education," he said in a commercial. But the lockbox amendment was initially proposed by Democrats in the legislature, and Hogan at first said it could be done by statute.
The perhaps more important point: there’s no organized opposition to Question One, only supporters.
Still, Comptroller Franchot says even the amendment is a "shell game" that he thinks legislators could figure out how to get around. He supports it anyway. "Well, hope springs eternal."
Sometime in the next few months, the so-called Kirwan Commission is slated to recommend new funding formulas for schools in Maryland. It could recommend billions in additional money.
Video here: https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/local/maryland/voters-to-decide-amendment-to-lock-box-casino-money-for-schools/65-607285659