By Cynthia Koons
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) called Gov. George Pataki’s proposal to offset school funding deficits with video lottery machines “absurd and cruel” last week after the governor unveiled an executive budget that also included an increase of $5.4 million for city schools.
Last year the Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park discussed installing 4,500 video lottery machines but halted the operation after a criminal probe into the racetrack began. State Comptroller Alan Hevesi began to monitor the finances of the racetrack last fall and endorsed the installation of the video terminals there to increase revenue throughout the state.
Pataki, proposing the installation of an unspecified number of additional video lottery terminals during his State of the State address earlier this month, said his gambling scheme could net the state $325 million this school year and grow to $2 billion over the next five years.
In a trip to Albany last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed opposition to the gambling proposal because he said it is an unstable and unreliable way to raise money. Padavan said he is against the gambling proposal because it takes money from the poorest New Yorkers.
“Proposals to fund education on the backs of hopelessly addicted gamblers and people of lower socio-economic status are absurd and cruel,” Padavan said in a statement he released after the budget was unveiled in Albany Jan. 20. “The governor won’t say he’s proposing new taxes, but everyone knows gambling is a regressive form of taxation.”
Pataki’s plan to gain revenues from gambling machines is a response to a court mandate that requires the state government to increase funding for city students to be on par with per student funding levels in the rest of the state.
But Padavan said turning to gambling is an unjust, easy out.
“I understand that tough choices have to be made in order to adequately fund schools,” he said. “Doing so requires leadership and original thinking, but year after year whenever there’s a gap in revenue or a lack of funds, this administration turns to gambling.”
Pataki said at his budget unveiling that he would increase the state’s education spending by $140 million, bringing the total outlays to $14.6 billion statewide and giving $5.4 billion of that to city schools in the 2004-2005 school year. That equates to a $56 million increase from last year’s city school budget.
The governor’s proposal could establish as many as eight new casinos with the video slot machines in order to draw revenue into the city schools.
The video terminals were incorporated in the state budget this time last year as Pataki and other state legislators looked to generate funds instead of raising taxes.
Padavan, who has staunchly opposed the state gambling proposals in the past, disparaged the use of slot machines as a remedy for budget deficits this year.
“This doesn’t even make sense from an economic standpoint. Even regular supporters of gambling revenue realize that New York will be at a saturation level when the current crop of (video lottery terminals) come on line,” he said. “At what point do we say enough is enough?”
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.