One of the main attractions for having casinos is that they seem like free money for the state; all you have to do is allow it to happen, and like a magic box that turns stones into bread, the casino cranks out cash for schools, bridges, gazebos, and graft. There's no sacrifice involved — except for the discriminating consumers of leisure who willingly part with their vacation money at blackjack and slots.
Well maybe, and maybe not — Obviously I don't think so, but more to the point, we can't just plop down a casino every time we need to make a significant public investment — in universal pre-K, for instance, or better transit. That's why I like Ezra's line about taxation:
Democrats need to get better at making the case for dedicated taxes, like a 4% VAT that pays for health care. Taxes shouldn't be giving money to the government for unspecified purposes. They should buy things.
That strikes me as useful on several fronts: One, it makes specific the purpose of said tax; and two, it provides a necessary discipline on the government to actually spend the money that way. We do that with Medicare and Social Security, with specific deductions listed on your pay stub — and you even get a little Social Security statement of account in the mail once a year. I think that's some part of why these programs are popular — it's the “I paid for it” effect. People may believe that SS is in trouble, but they sure don't take kindly to the prospect of having it taken away.
More on the flip …
The fact is that the way our budget-sausages are made can only arouse suspicion: Throw a bunch of sales- and income-tax $$$ together in a big pot, stir briskly and pour. It's very easy to put a fair amount of porky lips-and-butt into the budget — earmarking being only the most commonly abused way to do it. There's no accountability, because the pot of money is so big and legislators all dip their hands in it — If everyone's guilty, no one's guilty. And even though we in the general public aren't knowledgable about budget matters, we just assume we're getting ripped off, and always suspect more could be done with less, whether it's true or not.
Anyway, based on the new spending priorities we know we have (hello infrastructure), it might be useful to set up a showpiece for a new kind of governing: Dedicated revenue stream for a specific purpose; intense scrutiny from an Inspector-General-type, who reports frequently to the public; total transparency of goals and execution. I would prefer that to, say, Jeff Ross's charmingly game suggestion that we just hike the income tax back up to 5.95% — not just because I think it's more politically palatable, but because it's more honest and transparent.