With the flourish of a pen on Tuesday morning, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill legalizing casino gambling in the commonwealth. One day earlier the two members of the Cape and Islands legislative delegation blasted the move as both socially irresponsible and economically corrosive for the region.
“To me it’s indicative of a rudderless ship,” said state Sen. Dan Wolf. “I look at it as not being good for the district; we both voted against it,” said state Rep. Timothy Madden.
Mr. Wolf and Mr. Madden visited the Gazette on Monday this week for a wide-ranging roundtable discussion that touched on everything from the return of primary care for veterans on the Island — Mr. Madden said he expects a contract between Partners Healthcare and the department of Veterans Affairs to be complete by early next year — to the Occupy movement (two of Mr. Wolf’s daughters are involved). But with the ink still drying on the casino legislation, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Madden remained most outspoken in their opposition to a bill that provides for three new resort casinos and one slot machine parlor in the state.
“There are so many levels on which I think that it’s wrong,” said Mr. Wolf. “If the legacy of our generation is going to be gambling casinos and that’s the best we can do it’s really disappointing. They produce some short-term jobs but my retort to that is: Building what? If we’re going to be creating jobs we should be creating jobs that rebuild the infrastructure, that build new infrastructure, that build great schools and great medical care facilities, better transportation — there’s so many things that we should be building and creating jobs for that this to me is, at best, a sideways step.”
Mr. Madden questioned the assessments of his colleagues who have painted the introduction of casinos as a revenue boon to the state.
“I inherently don’t think they’re going to be as successful as I think they’ve been portrayed to be,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong, I hope they turn out to be a wonderful success story but . . . I tend to come from a very parochial standpoint. To me I just see it competing with tourism dollars for infrastructure dollars and getting very little in return.”
A successful businessman who is founder and chief executive officer of Cape Air, Mr. Wolf was also dubious about the economic sense of launching an industry that he said may have reached a saturation point in the region.
“It’s not clear that the investment dollars are there,” he said. “Everybody except for Vermont in New England either has gaming or is talking about gaming. So there’s going to be a lot of competition and it may not be that great a business model.”
Even if the investment dollars do appear, the state senator said, the casinos will ultimately enrich a handful of mostly out-of-state investors. And then there are gambling’s social costs.
“The other half of casinos which really makes no sense is the regressive nature of it,” said Mr. Wolf. “It takes money from those who can least afford it at a time when we’re seeing inequality at its worse level, people say since the Great Depression but I actually think it’s the worst in the history of the country.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Madden did have good news to report. After more than two years without primary health care for veterans on the Island, he said he expects a long-haggled-over contract between Partners Healthcare and the department of Veterans Affairs to be finished shortly.
“I’ve been led to believe with a certain level of comfort that that contract will be done in the beginning of the year,” Mr. Madden said. “I don’t think necessarily in January but probably sometime in the first three months of the year. I reached out to Congressman Keating and he’s going to come to the Island to meet with the veterans to specifically touch on that issue. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” he added.
“I think we can get there,” said Mr. Wolf.
Mr. Wolf sees larger challenges within the health care system, which he said is just one of the drivers of an economic inequality that people are desperate for their political leaders to take on. The Vineyard could begin to address that inequality in the housing market, he said, by enacting a surcharge on property taxes for houses upwards of $2 to $3 million with the money to go into an affordable housing fund.
“It really does make sense because the reason that working families can’t afford housing here is directly related to what people who made their income elsewhere paid for their house. We need to figure out how to tap into those who are contributing to creating that reality to subsidize housing for people who are providing service in the community, like public safety officers and teachers.”
Mr. Wolf was at his most animated when discussing the collapse of the housing market, and in particular the banks who loaned to unqualified borrowers. Extending mortgages and reducing interest rates for homeowners, he says, isn’t enough.
“The people who were lending that money, creating the artificial demand which drove the prices up, should eat some of the principal,” he said. “It drives me crazy that we’re spending more of our law enforcement energy on peaceful protests around the country than going after those criminals. I get passionate about this because it pisses me off . . . If I could be king for a day not a single one of those banking executives would make more than $150,000 a year and if they chose to leave their job they should go to jail.”
Mr. Wolf backed up his progressive bona fides last Thursday in a march with the occupiers in Boston.
“There are a lot of people that are trying to marginalize the occupy movement, but the occupy movement is a real thing,” he said. “It’s not the cause of something; it’s a symptom of people now living in a country where they think it’s rigged. The American dream of opportunity based on a good education, class mobility based on people being given a fair chance if they’re willing to work hard and personal responsibility, doesn’t matter. In a world where personal responsibility and hard work aren’t rewarded because the system is stacked, the American dream collapses. And I’m hearing that.”