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Why we should celebrate the passing of Question 7

By Jolene Ivey,

The scorched-earth Question 7 ad war ended mercifully on Election Day. I no longer have to yell “Liar!” at the television, when anti-casino commercials spewed lies and played into the electorate’s distrust of politicians. I don’t even have to cringe at the commercials that played up how Question 7 would benefit education (which it will), when the more persuasive message should have been, “More jobs, more money for Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland.”

But whether you voted aye or nay on Question 7, you will then see solid evidence of this project’s true economic impact. Building the casino will be a huge project that will employ around 2,000 construction workers and require hundreds of millions of dollars in concrete, bricks, piping, glass, wires and steel that will, of necessity, come from local businesses.

Looking forward to July 1, 2016 — the earliest a Prince George’s casino could open — the county casino will have hired about 4,000 people to keep it up and running. A business this big will need employees with a wide variety of skills. Computer programmers, accountants, card dealers, custodians, managers, waiters — these jobs will have a huge effect on our area. The Prince George’s County Council will be responsible for making sure that our residents are hired for most of them. We already have a precedent to follow: In Detroit, which opened casinos more than a decade ago, the city council requires that 50 percent of the casino employees be city residents, and MGM Grand Detroit has hired 80 percent of its employees from Detroit. I’m confident that our facility will be a local hiring engine, as well.

We’ve put in belts-and-suspenders oversight for our gaming programs in the state. This bill includes the creation of the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, which was appointed Oct. 1, 2012, made up of financial professionals appointed by the governor; and the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, which will be made up of 4 senators and 4 delegates to keep a careful eye on the gaming program and report any findings and recommendations each year.

A landmark casino at National Harbor (the best and most likely location, in my opinion) will be a magnet for tourists, conventioneers and gamblers from all over the country. Revenue at the resort will not come only from gaming. Prince George’s County will get about $20 million each year from our share of the gaming proceeds and another $20 million from an increase in income taxes, entertainment taxes and property taxes.

Meanwhile, the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which has been the flash point of the ad war, will get an additional $199 million by 2019. So far, $144.3 million has been dedicated to the ETF. The important thing to understand is that state education aid is decided by a formula passed in 2002 called the Bridge to Excellence Act, also known as Thornton, after its chair, Alvin Thornton. We’ve more than doubled education funding as a result of this legislation, and the state of Maryland now dedicates more than $5.8 billion to education each year. This increase has happened even during our recent economic downturn. Maryland’s well is dry. We’ve made severe cuts to services and programs, even furloughing state workers, to meet the bar we’ve set for ourselves for education funding.

The anti-casino ads that said this bill won’t increase the pot for education were correct, but that is how the ETF was set up back in 2008, when the voters approved it. It was always intended to protect dedicated education funding to free up general fund revenues for other programs. Nothing in this legislation altered the ETF. The voters agreeing with the legislature to make these changes to our gaming laws have protected the funding that is there now, making it much less likely that we’ll have to reduce our current education funding formulas in the future.

This explanation doesn’t fit well into a 30-second ad. I’m glad the voters of Maryland approved this plan, which will lead to more jobs and more money for Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland.

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