Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Educate and Obfuscate


I've been meaning for some time to take on Ohio Learn and Earn, but finding time to listen to the MTB podcast, breakdown the actual amendment and scry the internet for information has thus far eluded me. I'll do all that sometime, but fact is the proposal is plenty dislikable even if it works as advertised.

For those just catching up, Learn and Earn (hereinafter designated by my nickname Educate and Obfuscate or Ed and Obf) is the latest scheme to expand the decriminalization of gambling in the state. Instead of just legalizing gambling, they legalize gambling, then earmark the taxes for a college scholarship fund. Or to hear them put it, they create a scholarship program and fund it with . . . let me see here, what can we do . . . oh, taxes on slot machine earnings. That will work!

Seriously, they the gambling interests pimping this idea are touting it as a scholarship program. In fact, depending on the source, you might not know it's a gambling issue at all. Mind you, the fine print includes all sorts of pro-gambling industry goodies, like local option for full casino gambling. But remember, it's all about education.

Hence, Educate and Obfuscate.

The whole thing is so off-putting, it has accomplished something few people thought possible. No, not putting me in bed with David Zanotti -- that happened long ago. Ed and Obf has created a blog that I won't link to even though they blogroll me. In point of fact, the blogroll is like grass scent on astroturf, so it wasn't even a temptation.

While I have my differences with gambling as a growth strategy (you can catch up here, here and here), I take a particularly dim view of this scheme. First off, as a K-12 education advocate, I can testify to the albatross that is the Ohio Lottery. Talk to people about funding K-12 and they inevitably start complaining about how the lottery was supposed to take care of all of that.

The Ed and Obf folks will counter that unlike in the case of the Lottery, they have rigged their scheme so that the General Assembly can't offset the money from the slots. First off, they can find a way. But even if they don't trade off one-to-one, they can just fund schools less and let tuitions rise faster with the excuse that students should just rely on the Ed and Obf scholarships.

But more fundamentally than that, Ed and Obf lets everyone off the hook. The fundamental moral objection to gambling is that creates the illusion that a person can get something for nothing. As destructive as such an illusion might be for and individual, it is devastating for communities. Republicans have sold this illusion as fact for years. Just today we learn that a program that saves taxpayer money in the long run is going under the knife.

People are starting to see the folly in all this. People are starting to learn that "Cut taxes one more time" isn't a theory of governance.

Ed and Obf offers a mirage of free money in a state parched of education funding. Without Ed and Obf, the day would come that voters demand real leadership from their elected officials to lead them from the desert. With Ed and Obf's illusory promises, Republicans are in a win-win situation. They can run against the proposal, stir up their conservative base and paint the Democrats as amoral degenerates. But then if they win, they stand back and say "problem solved. You voted for this; it's now your higher education program."

Educate and Obfuscate is a sucker's bet.

6 comments:

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Scott,

That's true, you're absolutely right.

B'shalom,

Jeff

Todd Hoffman, Ohio Learn and Earn said...

I hope you do take time to read the amendment and listen to the MTB podcast because I think that your post reflects a lack of understanding of the issue. But hey, that’s what I am here for. And I am happy to have the discussion.

Instead of just legalizing gambling, they legalize gambling, then earmark the taxes for a college scholarship fund.

Well, yes, that’s the point. Why legalize gambling if you cannot tax it? The General Assembly has been unable to address the fact that Ohio ranks 49th in affordability of college education, so we are trying to create a program using funds that they can’t misspend.

Seriously, they the gambling interests pimping this idea are touting it as a scholarship program. In fact, depending on the source, you might not know it's a gambling issue at all.

Well that IS depending on the source. Ohio Learn and Earn is not hiding anything about gambling. Everyone knows that the funding comes from gambling. Just look around the blogs or read our website.

Mind you, the fine print includes all sorts of pro-gambling industry goodies, like local option for full casino gambling.

Yes, Cleveland, and only Cleveland, asked for a local option for full casino gambling because city business and political leaders believe that this form of entertainment will bring large conferences in to the city thus increasing profits for downtown hotels, restaurants and other entertainment services.

Hence, Educate and Obfuscate.

Huh? Got to grab my dictionary…should have gotten that college education

First off, as a K-12 education advocate, I can testify to the albatross that is the Ohio Lottery. …The Ed and Obf folks will counter that unlike in the case of the Lottery, they have rigged their scheme so that the General Assembly can't offset the money from the slots.

Yes, Ohio Learn and Earn makes it impossible for the General Assembly to divert the funds like they did with the lottery and tobacco settlements. OLE puts the money directly into personal accounts for each student, which they can claim when they are accepted into an Ohio college.

…they can just fund schools less and let tuitions rise faster with the excuse that students should just rely on the Ed and Obf scholarships.

Actually, the initiative guarantees that the scholarship will be equal to the average tuition of public universities in the state. So if you raise tuition, the scholarship amount raises equally. So the kids are covered regardless. If the GA wants to play with the numbers and try to bankrupt OLE by skyrocketing tuitions, I think they will face some angry voters.

The fundamental moral objection to gambling is that creates the illusion that a person can get something for nothing.

Of course, I don’t expect those who morally object to gambling to support our issue. My view is different. Done properly in moderation, it is entertainment. Done in excess, it is dangerous. But so are many things in life and I don’t think the government needs to regulate all of them. But the fact is that gambling is already available everywhere. You don’t even have to drive to Indiana, just flip on your computer and send your money to the Caymans untaxed. Why not create a great college scholarship program with the revenues that this can generate?

Pho said...

Todd:

Thank you for replying and welcome to virtual Akron.

A few responses:

Well, yes, that’s the point. Why legalize gambling if you cannot tax it?

You're right, there's no reason to legalize it without taxing it, but this is about the primary question: should we legalize it at all? For any number of reasons I think not. The foremost -- which is the central theme of the post and which you don't really address -- is that Ed and Obf enables the continuing bad behavior of Republicans in charge. As you note later in your comment, if they continue to screw with higher ed funding, they will face some angry voters. So why let them off the hook now?

This part of the comment also seems to imply that this is a scholarship program first and foremost. I disagree. This is a gambling initiative first and foremost, with the scholarship program inserted to act as bait.

If you are really serious about funding scholarships this way, how 'bout sending 100% of earnings to the fund? We already have the lottery and charity bingo and raffles. If slot-funded education is such a great idea, let's go whole hog.

Ohio Learn and Earn is not hiding anything about gambling. Everyone knows that the funding comes from gambling.

I'll note that the passage in my post this responds to links to a BSB post about a radio ad that in fact does not identify the source. I didn't see you deny the charge (personally I haven't heard the ad.)

Hence, Educate and Obfuscate.

Huh? Got to grab my dictionary…should have gotten that college education


Hmm, so you probably haven't read Faust . . .

Todd Hoffman, Ohio Learn and Earn said...

Thanks Scott for your counterpoints. To address these concerns:

OLE enables the continuing bad behavior of Republicans in charge

I see your point here. The Republicans have certainly abused their power in terms of diverting money away from education. In fact, the percentage of Ohio’s budget allocated towards higher education has dropped from 17.7% in 1979 to 11.7% in 2005. And cuts happened albeit to a lesser extent under Celeste as well.

The reality is though that the state funding is not scholarship money, its money allocated directly to the universities in hopes that they keep their tuition rates down. Unless there is a major change in the power structure and culture of the General Assembly, I doubt that they would propose a statewide scholarship program where the money goes directly to the student's accounts and not to the universities. I am also not sure where they would find funding in these amounts.

Are we letting them off the hook? I really don’t see it that way. They will have to at least maintain the current 11% for tuition rates to remain stable. They will also be faced with angry voters who, as they see that their students have a chance financially to go to college if they can meet the admissions criteria, demand a better K-12 public school system. I also think that the universities may higher the level of admissions criteria as they struggle to accommodate more applicants. This would increase the level of competition at the high school level, forcing students to be more prepared for college. I think it levels the playing field. It will not be enough to skate through high school and get into college because your parents have enough money to pay your way.

This part of the comment also seems to imply that this is a scholarship program first and foremost. I disagree. This is a gambling initiative first and foremost, with the scholarship program inserted to act as bait.

I think its both. Allow slot machines, you get scholarships. That is the decision that Ohioans will need to make. Sure there will be businesses that make a profit on this deal. And not only the gambling industry but also restaurants, hotels, and other service related businesses. But if you ask anyone on the campaign staff, myself included; we are here because we are excited about the scholarship program and truly believe it will be a great thing for Ohio students. That is why I put it first and foremost. I have never played a slot machine myself and doubt I will.

…how 'bout sending 100% of earnings to the fund?

To tax 100% the state government would have to take over the racetracks and get into the horse racing business. They would also have to run the slot parlors in Cleveland. The government would then have to spend a great deal of money buying the facilities, expanding the facilities, hiring workers, etc. After all these expenses, I don’t think that the remaining profit would be much more than the nearly one billion a year we are projecting. I also don’t see any politicians being interested in such a venture.

On hiding the gambling issue…I'll note that the passage in my post this responds to links to a BSB post about a radio ad that in fact does not identify the source.

This has been an issue that I have been dealing with a lot. I don’t think the intention was to hide anything, but rather we were in the first phase of a branding campaign where we just wanted to get our name out there. This is a short run and we will not even be running the video ad version of this (and it’s off the website now). Our future ads will be different in nature.

Ok, I hope I have answered some of your questions. I am off to brush up on my Faust.

Jason Sonenshein said...

"Why legalize gambling if you cannot tax it?"

Because whether, where, and by what means I gamble should be none of the State of Ohio's business. As far as I'm concerned, Learn and Earn doesn't go far enough in legalizing gambling. I'd prefer local-option table games everywhere, not just in Cleveland. I'd also prefer a more-or-lesss open market for gambling, such as Nevada has, rather than a constitutionally protected oligopoly. For all its faults, however, I'll vote for Learn and Earn because it expands Ohioans' freedom to gamble, and is thus an improvement over the current law.

AC Ohio said...

Ohio Learn & Earn - Mr. Ed-ucation

First off let me start by saying that I personally think that the Ohio Learn & Earn concept is outstanding. Funding education through expanding our already popular in-state gaming is a great way to make college education more affordable for Ohio families. The 7 Ohio race tracks have seen the over the years the difficulty in keeping competitive with their slot-allowing neighbors (such as PA, WV, MI).

However... I do feel that the Ohio Learn & Earn committee and the mysterious founders behind it (obviously Mr. Jacobs & race track owners) are missing the mark with publicity.

I can already see the ads this fall now... a bunch of gambino's sitting around a smoke filled room playing cards and smoking cigars with a giant pile of money in the middle of the table boosting about how the 'pulled one over' on the voters of Ohio.

Someone needs to take this message away from the opposition groups and hit the issue head on. My suggestion... Mr. Ed(ucation).

Alright, so it seems kinda lame in your mind.. But think about it! Who was the smartest horse of them all? Remember the episode of Mr. Ed in his big glasses and graduation cap? It works perfectly into the campaign. Mr Ed is a horse... The 7 Ohio horse tracks... Mr. Ed-ucation... The picture paints itself.

What do voters love? What do people love? What do children love? HORSES!

How can you discredit a talking horse? People yakity and yak and waste their time all day, but Mr. Ed will never speak unless he has something to say. A horse is a horse of course, of couse that is unless of course the horse is the famous Mr. Ed-ucation.

My point is that don't hide behind the gaming issue... Don't let it be the "catch" of this great plan. I support the Ohio Learn & Earn campaign because it will allow slot machines at 7 Ohio race tracks and two downtown Cleveland locations to fund an estimated $1 billion scholarship fund for Ohio students.

What's the catch... There is no catch... 100% Win-Win for Ohioians.