[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Herald on Amendment 1, Slots and Real Estate Coverage

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Herald on Amendment 1, Slots and Real Estate Coverage

Today's Miami Herald offers up its recommendations on Amendment 1 and Vegas-style slots for Miami-Dade County.

Starting off with their editorial on Amendment 1, they are against it, for many of the same reasons as I stated in the previous post. However, they don't explore far enough into the issue of lack of significant improvements in local government services disproportionate with the increase in tax revenues. Nevertheless, they are on the right side of the issue as far as I'm concerned:

This isn't genuine reform. It is a Band-Aid approach to the problem of fixing Florida's property-tax mess. Voters are fully aware of the large increases in local tax revenues in recent years, but this proposal does nothing to reverse those increases.

Voters want something better

The amendment would provide ''portability'' for those who already enjoy the Save Our Homes tax benefit. This is an undeniable bonus for owners of homesteaded properties, and could improve the dismal real-estate picture, although not enough to make a big difference.

Even so, some will argue, a tax cut is a tax cut. Agreed, but in exchange for a small measure of relief, residents are guaranteed deeper cuts in local services. Meanwhile, the state's creaky, inefficient and archaic tax system will remain in place. They say that it is bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is an exception to the rule. Give this nag back to the Legislature and tell lawmakers that voters want something better.

On the Jan. 29 primary ballot, on Amendment One relating to property tax exemptions, The Miami Herald recommends a vote of NO.

Next up: Vegas-style slots for Miami-Dade County? The Herald recommends NO. This one I don't have as strong of a feeling on.

Voters in Miami-Dade County said No to expanded gambling in 2005, and they should say No again when they go to the polls next week. If anything, an expansion of gambling to include slots at the Miami Jai-Alai fronton, Calder Race Course and Flagler Dog Track is a worse deal today than it was three years ago.

Here's why:

Since the 2005 vote, Gov. Charlie Crist has signed a deal with the Seminole Tribe that -- if ultimately upheld -- would give the Indians an unfair advantage over other gambling establishments, including the fronton and dog and horse tracks. That's because the Indian facilities, which already are bigger and more-luxurious than the Miami-Dade facilities, not only would have slots but card games, too, such as baccarat and blackjack, that can attract out-of-state tourists. The Miami-Dade facilities are in a tough position -- their businesses are dying -- and we empathize with them. But more gambling isn't the answer.

Today, given Broward's example, Miami-Dade voters know that the expansion of gambling next door hasn't delivered what was promised. Broward approved the gambling expansion in 2005, but the slots there have generated less than initially projected. State-revenue forecasters had to lower their estimates by $83 million this year.

Moreover, the promised boost to education from expanded gambling is minuscule at best. This is because the $200 million or so expected from Broward slots is a mere drop in the bucket of Florida's $20-plus billion education budget. And most of the education money generated in Broward doesn't go to Broward schools. Most of it goes to schools in Panama City, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Orlando and other places that reap the gambling largess without having to suffer its social ills, increased traffic and addiction.

Even if slots were to generate what they predict, the impact on education in general and on our local schools would be small. And Florida would still be near dead-last in education funding.

The Broward experience also shows that the jobs produced by expanded gambling aren't all that they are cracked up to be. Slots generate few professional, high-paying jobs and far more that are low-skill and low paying. Our communities can do better by going after better-paying jobs in medicine, technology, communications and other fields.

Finally, for those who simply enjoy the thrill of long-shot bets, there already are plenty of options, including the Florida Lottery, Indian casinos, off-shore casino ships and, of course, Broward slots.

On the Jan. 29 primary ballot, for County Question No. 3 relating to slot machines for existing horse and dog tracks and the jai-alai fronton, The Miami Herald recommends a vote of NO.

I share the Herald's concern about revenues not reaching the levels anticipated, as well as actual revenues being mostly used to fund other communities in the state. I believe if voters are going to approve and support slots in their community, any revenues that result should stay in the county. On the other hand, I don't lend much credence to the belief that an increase in gambling outlets will create "social ills", as the Herald put it. There's no documented proof that slots in neighboring Broward County have led to an increase in gambling addiction, crime and other related problems. The Herald's other main concern is the mostly low-paying low-skilled jobs that slots would create. Sure, but any job is better than no job, especially in these economic times. We should be finding ways to create high-paying professional jobs, but this is not related to slots whatsoever. Finally, slots would provide a reasonable alternative to the Indian gaming enterprise, and as they say, competition is good. Balancing all this, I am leaning towards voting YES.

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