Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Casino Dollars? We'll Take 'Em (But Must Spend Them Strategically)

An article in yesterday's Enquirer highlighted a little known fact about the casino plan that will appear on this year's state ballot: an allocation will be made to each County, based on population, from the overall revenues of the casino: http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080825/NEWS01/808250302&s=d&page=8#pluckcomments

You can go to http://www.myohionow.com/ to study the entire issue. The basics are that if approved, this issue would allow for one casino, in Wilmington, Ohio. And 30% of the proceeds will be split among Ohio's 88 counties. Hamilton County is estimated to receive just under $16M in the first year (but clearly, that should be taken with a grain of salt). http://www.myohionow.com/benefits/sharethewealth.asp. So far, statewide polls have the issue ahead--although the track record of similar past efforts has not been too good.

My Basic View

Given that Ohioans are gambling close to home every day in Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and those states are investing Ohioans dollars into their citizens' priorities, I've never been troubled by the idea that Ohio join the club. If Ohio dollars can build roads, schools and help economic development in Indiana, we might as well have those dollars do the same in Ohio itself. I voted for the 2006 effort for that reason. And I wasn't the only one--a majority of Hamilton County citizens supported that effort (I suspect because they also see so much of our money going to Indiana).

The current issue, though, provides a far more direct benefit to counties than the one in 2006. The proceeds will flow directly to our general fund. And in Hamilton County, for those who choose to go to casinos, it actually will be closer to many County residents than Indiana. For those who don't want a casino in their backyard, it's plenty far away.

Ultimately, though, each voter can make up his or her own mind on supporting the issue.

Strategic and Disciplined

At the same time, I'm a firm believer that rather than scrambling around after the fact, we are best off to plan ahead in the event that this issue passes (of course, when we budget for 2009 and beyond, we will budget assuming it does NOT pass).

That's why I have asked County Administration to think through the ideal way to invest these dollars strategically, over time, and am doing the same analysis myself. Short-term, our priorities are clearly to replenish our reserves and ensure we are providing for our core public safety responsibility.

But short-, medium- and long-term, the most important thing we need to do is grow economically, create jobs, and invest accordingly. We have to better compete to bring in new jobs and businesses, we have to retain and grow our current jobs and businesses, and we have to connect our citizens to those jobs. That work takes infrastructure, site development, redevelopment of "brownfields" and "grayfields," and proactive retention and attraction efforts.

And if you look at our budget picture today, and compare it to other counties, where we are truly lacking is a robust and strategic economic development approach that does these things. Compared to other counties, we aren't investing in creating economic growth, or good sites or infrastructure for economic and job growth, so we don't get enough of it as a result. (The G.E. and US Playing Card decisions are just two recent examples where our financial incentive package was competitive, but the sites we offered were not). All this leaves us with fewer overall dollars in revenues to fund the basic services that our citizens rely on.

Which is why the formula of how to spend these potential casino dollars should balance our near-term priorities (budget crunch and public safety) with this critical need to grow economically. Only that growth strategy will put us where we need to be over time. More to come as we develop that strategy. (And even if the casino doesn't pass, this is something we must do either way with whatever funds we can; but the new funds would greatly accelerate and bolster such an approach).

Finally, some seem to be criticizing the very idea that we plan ahead in case this issue passes. By doing so, we're "already spending the money," they say. Actually, the opposite is true. By creating a method of allocation that reflects our priorities prior to it passing, we can lock in a disciplined and strategic spending method and process, and apply it when the time comes. If we do nothing, and then it passes, that's when the feeding frenzy begins, and undisciplined, nonstrategic spending sprees occur.

In this case, planning ahead and thinking strategically will ensure that any new dollars are invested most effectively. Failing to do so will result in the same old status quo.


Anonymous said...

Here's the issue nobody is thinking of: If we allow Wilmington to "take hold" of this type of entertainment industry - we leave our area out of the coup.

I like the idea of share the wealth. But, I like more the concept of sharing the growth - in our economy, jobs, housing market, construction, entertainment complex, etc.

I believe Ohio has misstepped in this entire gambling issue - we need the pie, not a piece of it.

I'm voting against it until we can share in the wealth and compete for the growth in our local economy.

(I think)

Donald said...

Anonymous raises a point I've been wondering about.

Why can't we get a casino ballot issue that isn't sponsored by the gaming industry? We know why Wilmington is chosen--because it won't compete too much directly with Argosy, Belterra, Detroit casinos, etc.

Shouldn't we be pushing for a measure that simply legalizes gaming across the state and leaves it to either counties or municipalities (likely the latter) to permit it within their individual boundaries?

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