No Need for Keno

February 28, 1993

If state legislators take a hard look at the Schaefe administration's proposed $12 billion budget, they are likely to find a number of areas where cuts can be made that could easily balance revenue and spending without perpetuating the dangerously fast-paced gambling game of keno.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he can't balance his budget without the keno revenue. That's not so. In fact, if the governor would heed the advice of House Republican leaders, he might save a bundle of money and go a long way toward eliminating the need for keno.

House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey points out that simply by eliminating vacant positions in excess of the expected turnover requirements, the state could save $18 million. Higher than expected child support collections have generated a $9 million savings in the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program. Lower than anticipated grants in the General Public Assistance program mean a $4 million savings. A badly overstated Medicaid caseload frees up $33 million.

That's $64 million just in bookkeeping adjustments. On top of that, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell is targeting spending cuts in the Schaefer budget of $105 million. These two proposals, taken together, would render keno unnecessary.

The Senate Finance Committee was right to vote overwhelmingly in favor of outlawing keno. Not only is it socially and morally destructive, keno can be addictive. It is a mischievous fiscal tool because of its uncertainty as a revenue source. And it is encouraging the governor to ratchet up spending faster than the state's economic growth rate.

This last problem is especially worrisome. One of the reasons for Maryland's painful budget plight was that spending got ahead of the state's real economic growth rate. We should not fall into that trap again. Yet that is what the keno revenue achieves. State legislators have an obligation to taxpayers to rein-in this excessive spending financed by keno. As we have said before, the key word for legislators in budget matters should be caution -- even if it means saying no to keno.

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