Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Minnesotans are betting folk — and are betting on our children’s futures

MARSHALL, Minn. — On July 4, 2008, the Minnesota Department of Education approved an experiment with the Southwest Minnesota school district, MACCRAY (Maynard, Clara City and Raymond) to move toward a four-day school week.

MARSHALL, Minn. — On July 4, 2008, the Minnesota Department of Education approved an experiment with the Southwest Minnesota school district, MACCRAY (Maynard, Clara City and Raymond) to move toward a four-day school week. This news prompted one student to remark, “I’m pretty excited. You get a day off from school and homework and everything else.” The purpose of the experiment had nothing to do with student achievement, but was pure and simple a cost saving measure. According to the Star Tribune, “the alternative schedule … promises to save $85,000 in energy and transportation costs.”

On April 8, 2009, the Black Duck school district announced that it will also take Mondays off in a cost-saving measure. Voting-age citizens of the district will get to choose whether to continue the cost-saving measure after a one-year trial run.  According to MinnPost, “officials say money saved by the change — including decreased transportation costs, fuel, cooks, janitors, food and substitute teachers — will help the school district balance its budget without cutting any more teachers or staff, eliminating high school electives or increasing elementary school class sizes.”

On April 16, faculty at Southwest Minnesota State University, after a difficult debate, tabled a motion to begin a badly needed and high quality certificate program to train teachers to deal with autism spectrum students because the university is in danger of losing its interlibrary loan privileges due to years of chronic underfunding of the library collections. The possibility exists that any new programs or courses approved by the faculty will cause the university to lose its borrowing privileges. 

On April 22, Minnesota Public Radio reported that “seventy-five full-time teachers at Rochester Public Schools lost their jobs last night. The district cut 44 elementary teachers and 31 secondary school teachers for the coming school year, which will lead to bigger classes and fewer support staff. The cuts come as the result of a $9.3 million district deficit.”  The cuts will result in class sizes increasing and fewer elective course offerings for middle-school students. The cuts to next year’s budget look even more ominous.

Over $1.3 billion spent on charitable gambling in 2005
In 2005, Minnesotans risked $1,373,783,000 on charitable gambling. Of that, $1,277,248,000 was spent on pull-tabs and the rest divided among bingo, paddlewheels, raffles, and tipboard games. In 2007, Minnesotans risked $422.6 million on the lottery and some $66,235,804 at the race track in both live betting and simulcast wagering.

In 2002, News from Indian Country reported that, various newspapers cited estimates suggesting that Indian casino revenues totaled $1 billion a year or more after prize money was paid out but before expenses were paid. A 2003 report by the Federal Reserve Bank estimated 2000 revenues of Indian casinos at $850 million to $900 million. The Minnesota Lottery in September of 2002 said revenue estimates had ranged from $1 billion to $2 billion, and that same year John McCarthy, director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, acknowledged that the annual figure could be about $1 billion. How much people actually wager at Indian casinos is anyone’s guess as this does not have to be and is not reported publicly.

Taken together, Minnesotans risk a minimum $2.7 billion on gambling each year within the state’s borders. It is fair to say that this is truly discretionary income.  If Minnesotans are betting nearly half our state’s real budget deficit a year on whim, why are we firing teachers, not buying books for our university libraries, and moving to a four day school week? We are facing these things because a small Republican minority in the Minnesota House and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, twice elected by a minority of Minnesotans, refuse to consider a tax increase.

The answer to our problems is not to tax Indian casinos or put slots at Canterbury Park. It is to decide that we need to educate our children and make the decision that paying taxes is more important than wagering at the track, the neighborhood bar, or the nearby casino. 

Working Minnesotans can afford to pay more
To say that those of us who are working cannot afford a bit more in income tax is a lie, and everyone knows it. All of us with cell phones can talk fewer minutes or give up texting, those of us with cable can live with fewer channels, those with cars can drive more slowly, and all of us with jobs can save in hundreds of other ways. Those of us who gamble can wager less.

The Minnesota House will propose raising taxes by around $1.5 billion dollars, and if Minnesota gamblers alone paid that bill they would still be left with at least $1.2 billion to keep betting on their dreams.

Risking the education of Minnesota children is not a wager I am willing to make. Is Gov. Pawlenty? 

Jeff Kolnick is an associate professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.