6/25/2008 7:43:00 PM I've Been Thinkin' About the Casino Revenue
Last week, I attended a special public meeting at the Shelbyville Middle School auditorium. The meeting was co-sponsored by city and county elected officials to hear suggestions from the public on how to spend Shelby County's share of gaming revenues from the new Indiana Live! casino.
It is estimated that governments within Shelby County will receive approximately $6.7 million from the casino's first year of operation, and presumably, similar amounts each subsequent year. The gaming revenue is to be allocated according to population, so the city of Shelbyville could receive about $3 million of the first year's total .
David Finkel, president of the Shelbyville Plan Commission, moderated the event. Finkel made it clear at the beginning that debt and tax relief were "off the table" because officials already knew that everybody would like debt and tax relief. Therefore, the main purpose of the meeting was to gather input about possible uses for the annual windfall of gaming revenue.
About 40 individuals attended the meeting, nearly half were representatives of city and county government. Approximately a dozen people spoke at the microphone to voice ideas on how to spend some of the money. Most were speaking on behalf of government and service agencies.
I will not enumerate suggestions that were made at the meeting. Suffice it to say that everyone who spoke made reasonable requests and convincing arguments for their funding requests.
But something has been nagging me since that meeting.
So, I've been thinkin'...
First, it occurred to me that several of the funding requests were items and needs that should have already been addressed by government officials. In some cases, taxes may already be in place to address specific issues. So, why have these public needs not been met? Is it a lack of money? Is it spending priorities?
Second, my guess is that many elected officials already have their own ideas about how to spend the casino money. Perhaps they should sponsor another joint meeting to share those ideas with the public. At the very least, they should go on record with their thoughts about the windfall. After all, this affects the entire Shelby County community.
Finally, why has the initial discussion been about spending the new revenues? Why does there appear to be a rush to spend the money? Instead, maybe we should be talking about saving. We know that the casino's impact will increase Shelby County's crime quotient, so a reasonable amount of the new revenue should immediately go to additional funding for area law enforcement and emergency operations. Then invest the balance of the money. Invest it every year and use the earnings to fund new community programs.
This influx of non-budgeted revenue is similar to hitting the lottery. We can demand that government officials act responsibly, or we can allow them to go on a spree and spend like drunken sailors.