Last year the Phoenix came out foursquare in favor of Governor Deval Patrick's plan to build resort-style casinos. Patrick's proactive plan was conceived as a solid economic-development project closely tied with promoting tourism, already the state's third-largest industry.
Former Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, now under federal indictment on charges of political corruption, killed the idea.
With DiMasi gone, the idea of casino gambling is again alive.
After taking the temperature of his chamber, current Speaker Robert DeLeo has flip-flopped and is letting planning go forward.
Why is what was a bad idea one political season ago now a good one?
Part of the answer is that, with the economy in the tank, the state is more strapped for cash than usual.
The other part is that, as a group, Beacon Hill legislators — especially House members — often have a hard time telling their heads from their tails. A bunch of bananas has more spine than the House — and often more foresight.
The way things are shaping up at the State House, there is a good chance that any casino bill will be a thinly disguised measure to save horse racing, which is having trouble maintaining its economic viability.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of Massachusetts casino gambling is to try to capture a portion of the estimated $1 billion in local dollars that flow to casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut. But anyone who thinks casino gambling will be a magic pill to solve this state's fiscal woes should take a look at what's happening south of our border, where the bad economy has cut into gaming profits, and thus revenue to the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Rhode Island did a particularly bad job of structuring its gaming business. If Massachusetts is not careful, it is possible that it could turn what should be a winning proposition into a losing one.
A new look at casino gambling should take into account the current economic climate. If there is a new case to be made, make it. But forget about bailing out the race tracks. Let's see if the legislature can redeem its dismal record on this matter and come up with a plan that makes long-term sense.
A sorry statistic
You wouldn't guess it from DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, but there are more pressing issues for the state legislature than casinos. Education, for example.
According to the federal Adequate Yearly Progress report released earlier this month, Massachusetts's public education is actually moving in reverse. Fifty-four percent of the state's schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind goals — an increase of four percent in that sorry statistic over last year.
Back in July, Patrick submitted to the legislature a two-bill education-reform package that called for increasing the current cap on charter schools and the creation of new "Readiness Schools." The governor wants the state to have more power to intervene with underperforming schools, and school districts to have more autonomy and flexibility in improving those schools.
The legislature held its first hearing on the bills last week — and to the shock of nobody, the state's teachers' unions stepped forward to denounce the proposals. Edward Doherty, special assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, reportedly called Readiness Schools "a direct attack on teachers' rights."