Friday, October 26, 2007

Jobs, Unions and Casinos

A dear friend from Palmer mentioned that she and her husband have been reading this blog and they noticed that I had nothing positive written about casinos. An interesting observation, and one to which I feel compelled to respond. The Republican newspaper recorded my statements last week that the upside of casinos is certainly the construction jobs that are created when a large enterprise is built.

This is particularly true in Massachusetts where prevailing-wage union jobs are lucrative.

I was raised in a union family and thank God that my father had the security offered to him and his family that the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 provided. The union has continued to be very good to him during the past 15 years while he has struggled with debiliatating health issues and I am eternally grateful.

Now, I have no idea what people like the casino investors get for a retirement gift, but the certificate above was a highlight for my father.

Going back a little deeper into my family roots with unions my grandfather Albert D. Huckins (ninth or tenth generation English immigrant, 1640) is seen in this picture taken in Medford, MA during the Division 6 Salem Street Station strike in 1912 of the Carmen's Union. He drove the "El" and is the handsome gent with the double breasted suit just under the flag.

Studying the question of gambling is not new to me. As a Health Educator and Counselor I have researched issues of gambling addiction and witnessed devastating consequences for families impacted by compulsive gambling. More recently studying the Administration's proposal and the acknowlegements that there will be increased domestic violence, child neglect, drunk driving and bankruptcies as well as serious questions about the projected revenues , no contingencies for market saturation and downturns, or local aid, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot stand with my union brothers and sisters in supporting expanded gambling in Massachusetts. It is not without regret, nor without sadness that I have reached that conclusion. So to answer my friends query, casinos are positive for the creation of temporary union construction jobs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Recipe for Failure

Have you ever noticed that when you try to do too much, little gets done well? It's one of those persistent human condition things, that annoyingly leads to flaws and failure. When one's plate is too full, things get dropped and heartburn often follows.

The powerful contingent of four Republican senators in the state legislature has thrown another ingredient into the casino mix with a proposal to privatize the Lottery.

Things are looking pretty gooey.
From today's Globe:

"We shouldn't be running casinos, and we certainly shouldn't be running a
lottery," he went on. "It isn't a core mission of the government. The state
should be licensing and regulating the lottery like the governor has proposed
for the casinos."

This presents a serious dilemma; one that surely is a core mission of government according to many loyal Red Sox fans and Treasurer Cahill...who will bring the trophy around when we win the World Series?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Voice on Casinos to Power

Wednesday evening's successful Monson Voice on Casino meeting highlighted the need to expand the group to a regional citizen's vs. a Monson centric committee, a recommendation with which I concur.

Meanwhile, the Middleborough Selectmen who unveiled their agreement with the Wampanoag tribe four days before a town vote are balking at the Patrick Bill that cedes local control.

Bond agreed. "Right now, the agreement calls the tune, but with the commercial license, it would be the state calling the tune, so the state could impact what we get," Bond said.

Bond warned that the town could get far less if the deal with the Wampanoag is scrapped, and a casino is built as a commercially licensed establishment.

If it ain't good for the pro-casino guys one needn't wonder why the rest of us don't like it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


"When Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his casino plan last month, he said three destination resort casinos would generate $100 million to help host communities and their neighbors ease traffic and fight crime, and to pay for public health programs like compulsive gambling treatment and prevention.

But when the bill appeared last week, the amount of money earmarked for community mitigation and public health programs was only a fraction of what the governor promised: $27 million."

Even if the "DRAFTING ERROR" is corrected to a $50 million split between at least three sites, it would still be only a speck of what is needed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Casino Concerns in Palmer

As previously reported on this blog regional impact studies were not conducted by the Administration in the Patrick Casino Plan nor in the subsquent bill filed last week.

Channel 22 news in Springfield reports casino concerns in Palmer about siting a casino in the community that does not have the infrastructure to support a large scale casino enterprise.

The state needs to mandate that developers pay for independent studies with full disclosure of conflicts of interest and prohibitions for future employment with the casino industry.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Buy-in or Being Bought?

Buy-in or Being Bought?

Local Aid to cities and towns to provide essential services including: public safety, education, infrastructure, and sanitation in the communities and neighborhoods where we live, was a compelling platform of the Patrick Administration’s campaign. Cities and towns have been starved of needed financial resources with Proposition 2 ½ placing a ceiling on raising local revenues, while escalating health care, pension and utility costs along with insufficient state and federal aid have converged to squeeze municipal government. The results have been reductions in the quality and quantity of services available to taxpayers at home.

The Patrick Administration has proposed three class III casinos in the Commonwealth to be sited in three regions; metro Boston, southeastern and central/western Massachusetts. A portion of the gambling revenues has been proposed in their plan to provide a tax break to property owners. Andrea Estes reported in The Globe the following headline: “Homeowners could get casino payout, Patrick bill to share windfall via tax cut”

“Homeowners whose taxes equal 2.5 to 4.99 percent of their income would receive a $150 credit; homeowners who spend 5 to 7.49 percent of their income would receive $225; those who pay 7.5 to 9.99 percent of their annual income for taxes would get $300; and homeowners who pay 10 percent or more on property taxes would get $375.”

The average taxpayer may be lured into supporting this proposal on face-value without considering the negative impacts to our communities. In fact, homeowners who overstretched their budgets through buying homes that are costlier than they could afford may be rewarded for imprudent planning. While elderly residents (like my parents) on fixed incomes who have been hit with Proposition 2 ½ overrides several times in the past few years will not have lost services restored through the proposed tax credit. Nor will they see an end to the property tax increases in the town (Winchester) where they have lived for nearly sixty years. One of the most likely results of the ill conceived Patrick Plan will be to further increase tensions on the local level to recover the “pay-off” to property owners by the Administration’s gaming proceeds by municipalities to fund essential services. That is another losing proposition given the unwillingness of the public to override 2 ½ in order to fund schools, police, fire, sanitation and infrastructure. In close to eight years of local public service, I have not seen a worse scenario for towns and cities.

The Patrick Plan to include a property tax “break” is literally a step to “buy-in” support for casinos. The average taxpayer, busy and burdened with job, family and personal interests however, bemoans the state of public education and her/his local roads. The “windfall” that Ms. Estes describes does not begin to cover the fees that families face sending children to public schools. Fees often include buses/transportation, sports, parking, extracurricular activities and supplies. Offering tax credits to promote support for egregious public policy is not a new strategy.

The Administration fails to address the needed increases in Chapter 70 education funding, special education and foster students’ costs, as well as other Local Aid issues that are paramount in providing safe and sustainable improvements in our communities. The Administration does not increase Chapter 90 (local road and bridge) funding although the plan intends to address some transportation issues. The moving figure of $200 million dollars dedicated to transportation and infrastructure in the casino plan needs to be examined in context. Road re-construction and repair currently costs about $1 million per mile. In the rural community of Monson (45 sq. miles) with 106 miles of town maintained roads over 76% of the roads were determined to be in poor condition by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. If 78 million were spent to upgrade Monson’s infrastructure approximately 122 million would be left for the rest of the Commonwealth. These funds are not even a drop in the bucket...not even close! How will the projects be prioritized? Will a comprehensive needs analysis be enacted or will the projects get meted out by powerful Boston legislators? How will the environment of proposed casino sites in rural and suburban areas be mitigated? Forest and farmlands have become endangered species in the Commonwealth. The legacies of large-scale developments rarely have a happy ending for the resources upon which our lives depend

Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association that represents cities and towns was cited as stating, "This money is not local aid," he said. "We all know that property taxes are a major problem in Massachusetts. We believe the best way is to provide revenue sharing and local aid to cities and towns to reduce the reliance on the property tax."
Education is left out as transportation benefits. Municipalities are left out as certain property owners receive a nominal tax credit. The casino proposal fails to address Local Aid.

The Patrick Administration seeks support for expanded casino gambling despite prolific economic arguments questioning gaming as net positive economic development. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, created by Congress (1999), spent two years investigating gambling as an economic generator. "The central issue is whether the net increases in income and well-being are worth the acknowledged social costs for gambling. . . . The commission has concluded that it is currently impossible to obtain even a rough approximation of a true cost- benefit calculation concerning the economic impact of legalized gambling."

The 1999 Congressional commission agreed on the need for a moratorium on expanded gambling. Dealer wins, we lose.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Humor to Power

I was thinking that humor is really great when one is faced with chronic, insidious obstacles and this is the ticket for tonight.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Settlement Act: If Only The Towns Knew In 1983 What They Know Now

Settlement Act: If Only The Towns Knew In 1983 What They Know Now[Published on 10/26/2003]

By Wesley J. Johnson, Sr., Robert Congdon and Nicholas Mullane

When President Reagan signed the Mashantucket Pequot Settlement Act on Oct. 18, 1983, little notice was taken of it in the three towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston since most of the work involving the land issue had been done in Washington, D.C.
This act provided recognition of the Mashantucket Pequots as a federally-recognized tribe, gave them an 800-acres reservation within the boundaries of Ledyard, and $900,000 for the purchase of land within the reservation boundaries and for economic development.
Little did the residents of these three towns realize the impact this legislation would have on their lives in the coming years.
Initially, no impact was felt; then came the announcement of the construction of a 1,200-seat bingo hall on the reservation. The bingo hall gave the towns our first glimpse of the potential impacts of Native American gaming on our communities. The passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act led to a lawsuit by the tribe against Connecticut, claiming charities' ability to conduct “Las Vegas Nights” provided the tribe the right to conduct Class III gaming.
The vast wealth generated by the casino provided the tribe the financial resources to purchase land outside the settlement area. When, in 1993, the tribe submitted an application for annexation of land outside the settlement area, it made residents angry in all three towns and continues to flavor their feelings toward the tribe to this day. The towns' opposition to the annexation of land is warranted for several reasons: it erodes the towns' tax base; it removes all local land use controls, such as planning and zoning; and it provides the tribe many sovereign rights, at the expense of civil rights and protects the tribe from litigation in Connecticut courts.
The development of the casino created many impacts for the surrounding towns without the benefit of local tax revenue to mitigate these impacts. While Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston are considered the host communities for the casino, its impact reaches across all of Southeastern Connecticut. Fire, police and ambulance services in the host towns have been severely impacted. Emergency calls have increased dramatically, causing both personnel and financial burdens. And other towns face casino-related burdens as well. For example, the Norwich school system has the burden of dealing with more than 30 languages within its system, mostly children of casino workers who have moved in from elsewhere. Housing throughout the region has been impacted. Currently, there is an identified shortage of more than 5,000 units of affordable housing.
Sovereignty has brought litigation. The tribe has tried to extend its sovereignty as a tax shelter to the vendors who have contracts to supply equipment to the tribe, feeling that tribal sovereignty extends to their companies since their equipment is located within the reservation boundaries. One case has already been settled by Ledyard.
Additionally, a recent court case involves a tribal member seeking a refund of her state income taxes paid while living in Ledyard, outside the reservation. The tribal member is claiming the area should be designated as “Indian Country” and given the same sovereign rights as lands within the reservation. If areas outside the reservation are granted “Indian Country” status, it would be devastating to not only local communities, but also the entire state. State and local tax revenues would be impacted as well as all of the land use and environmental issues raised with our opposition to annexation.
Several years ago, the tribe sought to gain the exclusive franchise right to distribute water in our towns. We were successful in retaining our exclusive service area through a public process, the Water Utility Coordinating Committee (WUCC). The tribe recently tried to overturn the WUCC determination through a back-door deal with the Department of Public Health. The actions of the tribe and Department of Public Health have forced the towns to defend our sovereign rights once again.
Probably one of the greatest challenges facing the towns and the tribe is to develop a working government-to-government relationship when the foundation is in question. Bret Fromson, author of “Hitting the Jackpot,” said in a recent interview, “The Pequots are essentially living a lie, and that is one of the fundamental problems facing these people.” “How do you become a tribe, when you are not a tribe . . .”
Improving our relationship with the tribe will be difficult until such time as the federal government has the courage to address U.S. Indian policy.
If we only knew then, what we know now.
Wesley J. Johnson, Sr., Robert Congdon and Nicholas Mullane are first selectmen of Ledyard, Preston and North Stonington respectively.
The problems in Connecticut have gotten so bad that the state's attorney general and both of its U.S. senators, and congressmen from affected areas, have taken action (see above). But Connecticut is not the only place where there's trouble.
On February 17, 2005 Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent a two-page letter on official stationery to the Christian Coalition of South Florida expressing his opposition to the proliferation and expansion of tribal gambling casinos. Governor Bush says, in effect, that the problem was caused by Indian casinos already established before he became governor, and that there is little he can do to solve the problem, although he constantly opposes the casinos in the Legislature. Bush notes that the casinos are cannibalizing other businesses in the community. This letter should serve as a warning to businesses and communities in Hawai’i that passing the Akaka bill sets in motion powerful econolic and political forces that can then spin out of control. Here is a photo of Governor Bush’s letter on official stationery.

For More Information on the Impact of Tribal Recognition On Local Businessess and Neighborhoods

Casinos are Bad for Massachusetts, Bad for Monson

Patrick Plan Congeals

It was reported in today's Globe that the Governor's plan will include a requirement that a potential host community hold a binding election to dis/approve the siting of a class III casino in their town or city.

The REGION should vote to approve/disapprove if a
potential class III casino is sited in a locale of
<25,000-30,000 population. Abutting communities
within the 30 mile radius of a proposed class III
casino should participate in a ballot election. If a
decision, the magnitude of a class III casino, is
decided by residents of one small community and the
residents of the wider region that will be adversely
impacted are not allowed to participate in the voting
process, democracy is breached.

Enterprises the size and scope of class III gambling
institutions with projections of 40,000 daily visitors
and known negative collateral impacts, require
specialized approval and siting conditions.

I hope these conditions will be endorsed by the
regional Selectmen's Coalition surrounding Palmer and
the Southeastern Regional Coalition surrounding
Middleborough as well as members of the Legislature.

Smart growth planning (that has been touted by the
current Administration, the Legislature and the
previous Administration) discourages large-scale
development in regions that are not previously
developed or require significant infrastructure
development. Smart growth policies encourage
development clustered around public transportation,
existing housing stock and resources to support
growth. These considerations need to be included in
the siting of any large-scale enterprise along with
environmental and historic considerations.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My letter to Governor Patrick, August 12, 2007

August 12, 2007

Dear Governor Patrick:

I am writing to express my concerns that the study on the impacts of Casino Gambling in the Commonwealth has not yet been released to the public. I am a Selectman in a small community (Monson) in central/western Massachusetts. Our community abuts the town of Palmer with state highway routes going through the town of Monson from the east, south and west to the town of Palmer. We do not have the infrastructure in any of the following areas to support a large enterprise such as a Casino (with known collateral negative impacts); school department, police, fire, EMT, emergency management, highway (roads and bridges), sewer, trash, and other municipal functions.

I would like to have the information that was compiled in the report. I have a duty and responsibility to protect the interests of the town, my neighbors and my family. Many of us live in this community because we value our rural way of life. I moved from the Boston area where I was born and educated twenty years ago to the town of Monson for the "quality of life" that it offers. A Casino would undoubtedly impact our town and I need to be able to assess the potential impact while advocating for the resources necessary to protect the town and its citizens. Will potential agreements that support Casino Gambling provide sustainable and substantial revenues to abutting communities?

We clearly need an economic engine in our region. Our area is economically depressed - the region west of Worcester County is frequently referred to as Massachusetts' third economy. As the state has experienced difficult fiscal times over the past several years, these have been disproportionately leveled in Hampden County where the towns of Monson and Palmer are located. Hampden County has the highest poverty rates in the Commonwealth for single-parenting women with children (Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, 2006). Think about that is a moral and social tragedy. I will need compelling evidence that a Casino in Massachusetts will alleviate those problems. Most of my research over the past several years reveals that Casinos have been revenue-neutral propositions with loss of local community-based business, character and quality of life to the host region.

Throughout history advancements in education, health, technology, and safety are the immutable tenants that have built strong and sustainable societies. None of those factors are intrinsic components of the Gambling Industry.

Please slow the rush to decisions on siting Casinos in Massachusetts in order to promote a thorough, citizen and community based dialog on these issues. I have rarely witnessed legislation fueled by fear, greed or haste be prudent or sustainable.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. I may be reached at (omitted for this post) if you wish to discuss this further and learn more from the local perspective.


Kathleen Conley Norbut (D)