Gov. John Bel Edwards believes that the state has been too eager to dedicate tax revenues, but suggests we do it again.
Although it is generally a bad idea, he is gung-ho for it in his own pet cause. It is a cause that we can all readily embrace, however. He suggests that the state's share of sports-betting moolah be spent only on early childhood education.
This is a good time to debate the issue, for nobody is going to get too agitated divvying up money that does not exist. And if it ever does materialize, there is no telling how much of it there will be. We won't know unless we finally legalize sports betting in Louisiana.
It would make a great deal of sense to do so, because we are losing out to other states that have already taken advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the virtual monopoly Nevada has long enjoyed. One of those states is Mississippi, which could probably not believe its luck when our Legislature last year refused to allow sporting wagers in Louisiana.
The Legislature will be asked to reverse itself in the next session. That would be a sensible move, so you wouldn't want to bet on it. Still, with Edwards in favor, and the voters apparently receptive, the vote may be different this time.
If the Legislature does say yes, that will not be an end of the matter; it will merely direct each parish to hold a referendum on whether sports betting will be allowed there. A couple of months ago, voters in 47 parishes approved fantasy sports betting, so the real thing would presumably be OK, too.
What it would be worth for government coffers is impossible to estimate, and would obviously depend on handle and tax rates. If sports bets could be struck on smartphones, many more would be. The revenues would to some extent come at the expense of other forms of gambling, so the net impact might not be great.
But, if the sports-betting money were dedicated, early childhood education advocates would certainly see a difference. Edwards says sports-betting revenue “is not going to be terribly significant,” and no doubt, in the context of a $28 billion state operating budget, he is right. But sports-betting tax revenues would depend on so many factors that neither he nor anyone else has a handle on their size. They could mean a great deal to the early childhood education that is so close to his heart.
And plenty of other hearts too. The state's economic prospects depend to a large extent on a sound public education system, which will never realize its full potential with so many kids coming from such deprived backgrounds that they can never catch up. Around half our kids are reported to be not ready to learn when they start school, and “not ready to learn” may be putting it mildly.
Kids report for kindergarten unable to recognize shapes and colors and with “a vocabulary deficit in the thousands of words,” Edwards says. The children of prosperous and educated parents, meanwhile, will have an advanced reading age, a superior grasp of abstract concepts and much broader general knowledge. The accident of birth can determine an entire future.
Perhaps, in an ideal society, government should not be responsible for raising people's kids from infancy, but we do not live in an ideal society; we live in Louisiana.
And teaching their kids to read is not an option for many Louisiana parents, because nobody taught them. The illiteracy rate in the state is 20 percent. In East Baton Rouge it is 25 percent, 10 points above the national rate, which is nothing to write home about either. In other advanced countries, an adult who can't read is a rarity.
Many American adults who are not classed as illiterate have trouble performing routine tasks; according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, half of them can't read above an eighth-grade level. But they may still be capable of betting on the Saints to beat the spread when they play the Falcons. If we let them do it in Louisiana, the next generation might just see a benefit.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.