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Boro lawmakers blast plan to fund ed through gambling

By Cynthia Koons

State Sen. Frank Padavan (D-Bellerose) is projecting an increase of $13 billion in money spent gambling if Gov. George Pataki decides to offset school funding deficits with video lottery machines.

An outspoken critic of gambling initiatives, Padavan calculated these figures to further demonstrate that gambling addicts are going to bear the weight of this fund-raising proposal.

“Proponents of gambling will tell you about the increases in revenue the state would realize if more forms of gambling are brought on line,” Padavan said in a statement.

“What they won’t tell you is that another $13 billion needs to be sucked out of the economy to realize those revenues,” he said. “That’s money that could be spent on goods and services throughout our state that won’t be because people are chasing dreams and destroying their lives.”

Nearly 5,000 video lottery machines were primed for installation at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park last year, but a criminal probe into the track halted the operation.

This is the second time Padavan has publicly attacked Pataki’s plans to install video lottery machines in order to raise the money needed to equalize the amount of money spent on students in state and city schools.

In Pataki’s State of the State address in January, he said the gambling proposal could net the state $325 million in the coming school year and grow to $2 billion within the next five years.

Pataki’s school budget increased state education spending by $140 million, bringing total outlays to $14.6 billion statewide — $5.6 billion of which would go toward city schools in the 2004-2005 school year. These figures resulted from a court mandate that requires the state to contribute more to New York City students to be competitive with the amount spent on students in other parts of the state.

The court imposed a deadline of July 30, 2004 on the governor and state Legislature to devise a funding plan, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said.

“There is no funding guarantee in the governor’s proposal, and there is no guarantee of funding equity either,” Stavisky said in statement.

“This is an issue that cannot be skirted, one that while difficult to resolve must be settled in a way that does not shortchange our children and complies with the court’s ruling,” she said. “I do not believe the governor’s proposal does either.”

She called the video lottery terminal proposal “unstable” and “highly questionable.”

“If our goal is to provide our children with a sound and basic education as outlined by our state constitution, depending on gambling revenues to help achieve that end is a very perilous and unwise move,” she said.

Padavan based his calculations on revenue projections from the Executive Budget Proposal, Senate Finance Committee reports and extrapolations based on prize payout percentages.

He said 7.3 percent of New Yorkers are compulsive gamblers, leaving the burden of generating the $13 billion to 1.4 million people.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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