Ignorance Is Never Bliss
As expected, after a rather robust debate in which the same old arguments were reiterated, the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning voted 11-9 to kill Senator Lou D’Allesandro’s two casino gambling bill (SB366).
Not a single vote changed from six weeks ago when the same committee killed a one casino bill, a vote which was then affirmed by a 29 vote margin on the House floor. The only difference today was that with ranking Republican Norm Major hospitalized, Carol McGuire was deputized to sit in and vote against the bill.
Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, once again was the difference between defeat and a tie for the bill. Remember, he was placed on the committee earlier this year by Minority Leader Gene Chandler after a pro gambling Representative (Azarian from Salem) resigned.
The committee also voted against two amendments. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, wanted monies from the casinos earmarked for the highway department, thus obviating the need for a gasoline tax increase, and for a decrease in the state’s business taxes. That amendment failed 8-12 with Jack Kelly the only Democrat to vote for it (Republicans Hess and Osgood voted against it).
Also failing 7-13 was an amendment which would have allowed simultaneous applications for both casinos. Currently, at least a day but as much time as a year could separate processing of the two casino applications. Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, argued the amendment was in the spirit of encouraging competition from day one; that made sense to me, but Hess implied it could create “havoc” in the application process, an absurd idea if ever there were one. It almost seemed like those voting against the amendment were doing so to prevent making the bill better (for Libertarian types like myself) and thus making it more appealing when it gets to the House floor.
I guess that last clause answers a question in the back of mind. Should I approach this as an effort at “straight” reporting or salt this story with my usual share of opinions.
As always, I’m rather fond of salt.
Even had the Ames amendment passed, the bill as amended was doomed to failure.
The only question now is whether enough votes will be changed on the House floor to overturn the committee recommendation and allow other amendment to be brought forward.
Until today, I would have ranked the chances of that as rather good, but frankly pro gamblers seemed especially dispirited by today’s vote.
The so-called “bribe” (not my word) of $25 million a year to local communities in re venue sharing didn’t seem to be working.
Even the $110 million “problem” created by the court’s recent Medicaid hospital decision didn’t seem to be swaying people in favor of the gambling bill.
Ways and Means Chair Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said she has spent 18 years trying to make our revenue system work and we still have options other than gambling.
Perhaps the most interesting give and take of the morning was between anti-gambling Democrats in regard to what those other options might be. When Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth, mentioned that Alaska is the only other state without either a sales or income tax (a not so veiled suggestion that we should move in that direction), Vice Chair Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, quickly chimed in that the choice is not between gambling and an income tax.
Apparently both Cooney and Gil Shattuck, D-Hillsborough, were off the anti-gambling script in even suggesting tangentially that defeat of this bill could lead to an income or sales tax.
Even Almy, a long-time supporter of an income tax, did not want to go there. She did, however, face up what some are reluctant to admit these days, that they are anti-gambling for “moralistic” reasons. Gambling destroys are businesses “and our families”, she asserted just prior to the vote.
Another interesting threat of debate could be termed the something versus nothing argument. When Frank Davis, D-Pembroke, went through a litany of how gambling revenue expectations were coming up short in several states, both Sapareto and Ames were quick to respond that at least other states are getting some gambling revenue. A few years ago, Ohio received nothing, he countered, when Davis suggested that Ohio is getting only $821 million a year, only 57 percent of the $1.4 billion it had expected.
“We’re standing on the tracks; the train is coming,” Sapareto commented, adding that getting something, even if less than expected, is better than getting nothing.
As a neutral observer (What? Me neutral?), I’d have to say that Sapareto and Ames clearly won that argument. Sorry Rep. Davis, but something is certainly better than nothing; if you don’t believe that, see if a starving man will accept half a loaf of bread.
Is our state starving for revenue? Probably so, but then we’ve as Rep. Almy contents, we’ve always been able to find sustenance at another trough up till now.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still not committed to voting for the bill. I remain concerned that the state’s take is only 35 percent; we should be willing to take less money up front and ask a greater annual percentage. I’m also concerned that only two locations get the 5000 machines; we could certainly work a third facility into the mix.
Bottom line, at least for me, is that, unlike with the last gambling bill, I will vote to overturn the ITL motion in the hopes that the bill can be approved by amendments before a final ought to pass motion is offered.
We may never get there, and I’m not sure how much of these same old arguments House members want to hear, but for me at least, more is better this time around.
I deeply suspect that while she is remaining neutral publicly, lame duck Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, will be working behind the scenes to kill the bill just as she secretly conspired to kill HB492, regarding the legalization, regulation and taxation of small amounts of marijuana, despite at least four to one support by members of her own party.
Even though she’s not saying so publicly, rest assured that Governor Maggie Hassan wants this bill to pass. She may indeed prefer her “high end highly regulated single destination casino”, but they would sign this bill in a New York minute (does that metaphor even make sense?).