Betting on a Casino Panacea

1190038516We don’t like waiting around, so we were a little upset with Governor Deval Patrick last week after he delayed his decision on whether to endorse casino gambling in Massachusetts. It was especially upsetting because the governor didn’t seem to have a good reason for the delay. But in context it starts to make sense.

Yesterday’s Globe reported on two stories that provide the clues to the governor’s thinking: Patrick’s expected trio of casinos and a study by the Transportation Finance Commission that recommends a bevy of new taxes and tolls to pay for the Commonwealth’s nearly $20 billion infrastructure repair bill.

The propositions for raising money by taxes and tolls sound like an Orwellian nightmare:

. . . [T]he state should impose a system of “direct road user fees”. . . With such fees, motorists would be charged for every mile they drive on all major state roadways – not just the Massachusetts Turnpike – using technology that allows the state to track their mileage and bill them automatically. . . .

And wickedly expensive:

. . . [T]he commission will recommend a gas tax increase of 49 percent in 2008, from 23.5 cents to 35 cents a gallon. In future years, the tax would be boosted annually to reflect higher costs of living.

The Governor and the Legislature will have to approve any change, and it’s going to be tricky to convince police officers to give up their cushy paid details, and MBTA employees probably aren’t going to want to give up their benefits either. So get ready to receive usage bills and pay more in taxes at the pump.

Unless, of course, we just swallow this nice casino Kool-Aid to cure our economic woes:

Governor Deval Patrick plans to propose as early as tomorrow that the state sell licenses for three full-scale resort casinos in Massachusetts, citing their potential to spur economic growth, create jobs, and generate new government revenue, according to State House officials who have been briefed on his plan. . . . All three licenses would be put up for competitive bid, in a process that is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate and direct state revenue, the officials said.

New jobs, fancy hotels with spas and restaurants, and not having to worry about plunging to our death on a structurally deficient bridge? That sure sounds so much nicer than high taxes and dealing with police and MBTA unions. A skeptical Commonwealth awaits.