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Published: Monday, 4/14/2003

Truly a long shot

Ohio legislators just don't get it when it comes to budgeting and taxes, or that as elected officials, certain responsibilities are theirs, not those of their constituents. Foremost among them is producing a balanced budget that keeps government operating even in hard times.

The House agreed to raise the state sales tax from five cents to six for two years, but the tax will be in effect only about a year if Ohio voters approve the House's option, installing 2,500 slot machines at each state race track, in all, 17,500 one-armed bandits throughout the state.

We hope the Senate is more analytical now that state officials' dreams of riches from the Mega Millions lottery have come up seriously short, with $8.8 million collected in 10 months instead of an anticipated $41 million annual take. Blame the puniness of jackpots? It's a chicken-egg dilemma. Wins reflect the amount of the wagers in play. Fewer bets, lower pay outs. The 135 million to 1 odds are a better gauge.

House Speaker Larry Householder's desire to get slots installed at racetracks will only raid the pocketbooks of those who can least afford the incursion. Then the speaker and his House cronies who approved this ballot measure could say, “Well, that's what people wanted,” wring their hands, and shrug off the mess they helped create. It's a wrongheaded approach for many reasons.

First, in the words of Urbana Republican Jim Jordan, who opposed signing Ohio onto the Mega Millions program in the first place, the slots are “a quicker way to rip people off.” The players may collect a few dollars; but in gambling enterprises, it is always the house that scores big.

Second, in a republic, elected officials are expected to fulfill their duties, even if it requires a temporary tax increase as the lesser evil to shutting down basic government services. They can assess with more accuracy the amount of money a temporary sales tax levy will raise. As the Mega Millions shortfall shows, they can miss by a mile when it comes to predicting gambling revenue.

Finally, it is irresponsible for House members to underwrite the education of Ohio children in the 21st century on the uncertainty of gambling revenues.

The citizens of Ohio are smart enough to once again vote the gambling option down. Hopefully they will also remember those who proposed it.

Members of the Ohio Senate should refuse to go along with the House's gambling follies and pursue an investment in the education of Ohio children that ensures the state's economic future.

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