If approved, Question 1 would amend the state constitution to require that all tax revenue from the state’s six casinos be earmarked for K-12 public schools. That would amount to a shift of some $375 million annually by fiscal 2022 from other priorities, establishing what officials call a “lockbox” that would hold public school funding harmless — even if a recession forced painful cuts in every other area of state government.
No one would make the argument that K-12 education isn’t vital to Maryland’s future. Whether it is more important than funding hospitals, higher education, or roads and rails is a difficult question — exactly the one lawmakers are elected to grapple with. Rather than grappling with it, a “lockbox” would fix a course from which deviation would be exceptionally difficult. That’s an abdication of responsibility.
The measure’s advocates contend that casino gambling in Maryland, approved at referendum in 2008 and expanded, also at referendum, in 2012, was sold to voters as a gusher of money for schools. That’s only partly true. Slots, as gambling is widely known, were also touted as a panacea that would balance the state budget, rescue the state’s dying horse-racing industry and preserve horse farms and the open space they occupy.
In the event, some of the tax proceeds from casinos have been used as a substitute for, not a supplement to, other state funds allocated to public schools in budgets proposed by both then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and Mr. Hogan, a Republican, and approved by state lawmakers, a majority of whom are Democrats. In all, gambling proceeds have enabled the state to divert some $2 billion from schools to other priorities over the past decade. In effect, by backing Question 1, as Mr. Hogan and nearly all state lawmakers do, they are saying: Please, don’t let us use our judgment (and risk being criticized for doing so).
If Question 1 were approved, the effect would be to pump more than $4 billion in additional funding into K-12 education over the coming decade. None of that money would go to address the opioid crisis. None would go to state police, or to services for the mentally ill, or to combat gun violence. Public schools are critically important; so are those other priorities.