December 7, 2007

Commentary:

Big 4 Gambling Deals – A Bad Deal For Education And For California—“No” on 94, 95, 96 and 97

By Marty Hittelman

Every once in a while voters get a chance to correct a legislative mistake. The Secretary of State has officially qualified four referenda, Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97, for the February 5, 2008 ballot. That means voters will have a chance to reverse the “sweet heart deal” that the governor and the majority of the legislature made with a few wealthy Tribes. Of course, I’m referring to the Big 4 Gambling Deals — a political giveaway that would result in unfairly benefiting four of the state’s wealthiest and most powerful Indian tribes at the expense of other tribes, workers and taxpayers.

As an educator, these deals are especially bad because those behind them promise schools will benefit, when the truth is, not one penny is guaranteed to education.

We’ve arrived at this point after these Big 4 Tribes — Pechanga, Morongo, Sycuan and Agua Caliente – spent millions in campaign contributions to cut themselves a Sacramento deal that dramatically shifts the state’s gaming policy from modest growth to rapid expansion. During the past few months, they spent millions more trying to keep their deals off the ballot by hiring people to block the signature-gathering effort. However, nearly three million referendum signatures were collected to demand the opportunity voters now have to cast a vote against these terrible deals.

Now that they’re in the position of selling their deals to California voters, they’re making misleading claims about the benefits to the state. In his analysis of their recent TV ads, Peter Hecht of the Sacramento Bee called them on it for “suggesting that ‘without these agreements, billions of dollars would disappear from the state budget and our state would get nothing.’ There is nothing to ‘disappear’ because the state treasury currently receives no revenue stream from the tribes.”

Their false promises don’t end there. Their campaign promises more money for schools, when in fact not one penny is guaranteed to the state’s education budget. The California Federation of Teachers would be the first to advocate for legitimate proposals to improve school funding, but we believe these deals actually make matters worse. Here’s why: the Big 4 are spending millions and millions on television ads that promise schools are big winners under their deals when, in fact, the deals fail to guarantee ANY revenues to schools. If voters approve these deals because they were led to believe ‘the schools are taken care of’ when they are not, it makes it even more difficult to get the public to support real help for our schools. To this day, most Californians believe the state Lottery is ‘taking care of our schools,’ when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The Big 4 Gambling Deals are just another false promise for schools.

After wining and dining the legislature, the Big 4 tribes cut a deal for one of the largest expansions of casino gambling in U.S. history.

How much gambling expansion are we talking about? Add up all the slot machines at a dozen big Vegas casinos, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage, and Mandalay Bay, and they still wouldn’t total the 17,000 additional slot machines these deals authorize. Pechanga could more than triple its current 2,000 maximum number of slot machines to 7,500. California would become home to some of the largest casinos in the world.

Why do other Indian tribes oppose these deals? Just four of California’s 108 tribes would get unfair control over one-third of the state’s Indian gaming pie, with dominant casinos that could economically devastate smaller tribes with more modest enterprises.

Who would calculate how much revenue goes to the state? The Big 4 tribes themselves. The deals include an easily manipulated revenue sharing formula that lets the Big 4 decide which slot machines to count and how much to pay the state. In short: the deals let the Big 4 tribes off the hook for fair revenue sharing with taxpayers.

Why do labor unions oppose the Big 4 deals? The deals would shower four wealthy tribes with billions in profits, but fail to ensure the most basic rights for casino workers, including affordable health insurance. These tribes have a history of treating their workers poorly, paying poverty-level wages to their workers who then have to depend on government healthcare and other social programs while, at the same time, the tribes make billions in profits.

Why didn’t the Big 4 deals include strict environmental protections? Unlike previous compacts with other tribes, the Big 4 deals exclude language from the California Environmental Quality Act. By failing to do this, citizens lose a meaningful voice on casino expansion projects that threaten our environment.

The Big 4 tribes went to great expense to try to prevent you from having a say on their deals. That’s because they know that their unfair, political deals will not stand up to voter scrutiny.

Join educators, public safety officials, Indian tribes, taxpayers, labor unions, senior groups, civil rights and environmental organizations and vote “No” on 94, 95, 96 and 97. Force them back to the drawing board to come up with a deal that’s fair to all Californians.

Marty Hittelman is the elected President of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) which is a member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The CFT represents faculty and other school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education.

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