I'd like to talk a little bit about why I support repealing Act 71 - the slots bill.
First off, let me state that I'm pretty neutral on gambling itself. I've never had much of a penchant for gambling, although I will spend a couple dollars on a lottery ticket once in a while, if the jackpot gets really big.
Other than that, I don't play cards, I don't go to the racetrack, and I don't make trips to Atlantic City or Las Vegas to gamble. The fact is, the odds are always stacked against you, and I'm pretty tight with my earnings.
But if someone else chooses to take that risk, it doesn't much bother me, as long as they're not wasting their child's college fund or otherwise overdoing it and adversely effecting others.
So why do I care about repealing Act 71? It's pretty simple - Act 71 was passed by the legislature in the very same unconstitutional manner as last year's pay raise.
The slots bill spent months in the House and Senate and then - at the last moment - it was shoved off to committee where ALL the original text was stripped out the one-page bill and completely replaced with an 140+ page "amendment" that completely changed the bill's meaning.
Its passage violated the original purpose rule, the single subject rule, and the three-day rule - all of which are clearly outlined in the Constitution. It was challenged in the PA Supreme Court, but Ralph Cappy's crew said it was OK by them.
And that's the crux of our problem in Pennsylvania - the three branches of government are all too willing to trample the Constitution - and collude with each other to do so. They do it for various reasons - to trade favors with other lawmakers, to get a bit more money for themselves, to enact programs "for the children," or - as Ed Rendell put it - to "kiss a little butt."
But I think the people of this Commonwealth are fed up with this brand of behavior from elected officials and are willing to stand up and insist that the Constitution be followed - and that's what I intend to do as Governor.
But even putting its blatant unconstitutionality aside, there are plenty of other reasons to "back up the truck" on the slots issue - because every step of the way, they've done it all wrong.
First, I would have liked to have been asked if we wanted slots in Pennsylvania. Put it on a referendum: Should we make slot machines legal in Pennsylvania? It's a simple question. And don't give us any carrot on a stick like property tax relief to try to entice us. We all know that carrot's gone now - and all we have left is the stick. Just ask the question - do we want slots or not?
And while we're at it, let's ask if Pennsylvanians want to pay for public education with gambling money. As I've talked with citizens across the Commonwealth during the last year or so, I've gotten the distinct impression that Pennsylvanians are a little queasy about this.
But let's assume the people voted to open the door for slots and use the proceeds to educate our children. How would you implement slots parlors in Pennsylvania?
If you're trying to raise money for education, would you come up with a system where the state retains most of the earnings, much like the lottery system? Or would you let the lion's share of proceeds go to others, like the way they're doing it now?
And if you're really trying to raise revenue, wouldn't you auction off the licenses to the highest bidder - instead of fixing a set price for all of them? Imagine what kind of educational endowment fund we might have had if each of these 14 licenses were sold at their market price, which some experts have said could be as high as $500-600 million! But no, Pennsylvania is letting them go at the bargain basement rate of $50 million each.
And being aware of the negative social side effects that expanded gambling will certainly bring, wouldn't you try to at least concentrate those problems in the smallest possible geographic area? Or would you plant those problems squarely in 14 different communities across Pennsylvania, placing a significant future burden
Finally, how would you go about hiring the people to work on implementing slots? Would you allow cronyism? Would you perform rigid background checks? Would you check all their credentials? I think you'd do all these things with the greatest of care.
But not Pennsylvania. We've already seen five Gaming Board employees who've had run-ins with the law, with one incident involving the tragic death of a young woman who somehow fell from a high rise building in Harrisburg. And have you heard about the backgrounds of some of the people who've applied for slots licenses?
This whole business is pretty ugly already - and not one slots license has been issued and not one slot machine is even on line yet. Is this what we want for Pennsylvania's future?
These are the reasons I support a full repeal of Act 71. Let's stop right here and go back to the beginning, before things get worse.
Ed won't do it, because expanded gaming is his 'magic bullet' for property tax relief. But I've got some news for Ed - the property taxes of Pennsylvanians have already increased by more than he ever hoped slots money would bring us.
Lynn won't do it either, although he claims to be opposed to gambling. He's content with "inheriting" slots. I suppose that's understandable from him, considering that he accepted a $100,000 campaign contribution from someone whose family is applying for a slots license. It's kind of like the pay raise issue - he's trying to be on both sides of the fence.
On July 4, 2004, the slots bill got off to an unconstitutional start. It's been all downhill from there. But we can fix this. We can repeal Act 71. All it takes is a little effort.
We did it with the pay raise. In fact, Pennsylvanians have accomplished a lot of things in the last year that no one dreamed were possible.
As Governor, I will fight to stop slots and repeal Act 71. No other candidate is even willing to consider it.
The choice is clear.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Russ Diamond, Indie for PA Governor: Supports the REPEAL of Act 71 -- the slots bill.