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Texas House GOP Says It Has Votes to Block School Bill If Video Lottery Included

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – "What we're talking about is paying for schools by creating personal tragedies," said Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas). He joined other Republican members of the Texas House today at a press conference to announce they have sufficient support among their colleagues to block any school finance legislation that includes the use of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Texas.

One provision of public school finance and property tax reduction legislation that will be taken up on the House floor Tuesday authorizes the use of VLTs as an additional source of revenue. A handful of legislators, many of them Republican, said they do not want "an unstable revenue source" such as VLT income to support the children of Texas.

"We share the determination of Gov. (Rick) Perry to find a fair and fiscally responsible solution to financing public education in Texas," said Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving). "We are confident we can develop the right plan to fund education while reducing the property tax rate." However, she said the group has "serious reservations" about VLTs and slot machines as a funding option for public schools.

"Slot machines and casinos will never have our support," she said, in identifying a large number of her colleagues in House who she said are "adamantly opposed" to VDTs, and adding there are "more than enough to stop such legislation."

Saying VLTs are really slot machines, Harper-Brown said some proponents are talking about 40,000 of these machines in 10 casinos in Texas. "Every casino in Texas would be twice as large as Caesar's Place in Las Vegas."

The Irving Republican noted other concerns - saying all revenue options have not been researched. She said it would take years and millions of dollars to develop laws to oversee the casinos, claiming that for every dollar put into the economy by gambling, $3 is taken out. Harper-Brown said constituent reaction to the use of VLTs has been "extremely negative" and predicted that any funding plan that approves gambling will be "soundly defeated at the polls."

"The numbers that we're seeing in this bill are not good numbers," said Harper-Brown. She cited how lottery proceeds were far over-estimated when that form of gaming was introduced into the state. The same goes for horse racing, she said. "Horse racing was supposed to bring in $100 million. The best it's ever done is $11 million." She said there are "quite a few options" to raise additional state revenue.

"We're here for our children," said Rep. Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land) who said gaming receipts are not a "steady source of revenue." Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) asked what kind of lesson using VLTs to fund education will be for the state's children.

Hartnett said if the VLT provision passes, the legislature will be asking Texans to "gamble with their children's future" and to "lose big for a really good cause." Hartnett said the new slogan for Texas will be "Losing for Dollars."

The Dallas Republican said the state can find other ways to raise revenue. The $2.5 billion it is anticipated as VLT revenue will mean $2.5 billion in losses, he said. With perhaps one million Texans participating in VLT gaming, he said the cost will be approximately $2,500 per family per year. "We don't need this."

VLTs are as regressive as any sales tax, said Harper-Brown. In fact, she said, they are worse, because they "prey on poor families.

"The gambling lobby - the gaming industry - is trying to put gambling in Texas and say it's for the children. It's just the opposite - it's against the children." She said those states with VLTs have less to spend on education than states without VLTs. And she noted that at the Lone Star Park thoroughbred racing facility in Grand Prairie, there are bigger and better purses than at some facilities in Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, despite the fact that Lone Star does not have VLTs.

The group said they would favor other revenue sources that are more stable, such as the proposed "snack tax," which Harper-Brown said would add revenue as well as help with the problem of childhood obesity. That tax would apply to soft drinks, potato chips, peanuts and other snacks.

Other House members joining in the press conference were Reps. Bill Callegari (R-Katy), Corbin Van Arsdale (R-Cypress), Wayne Christian (R-Center), Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), Leo Berman (R-Tyler), Dan Flynn (R-Van), Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).