The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee began debating Bill 233 Wednesday, a proposal that would legalize slots parlors that would go toward helping fund state colleges like CU-Boulder and CSU.
The bill marks the second attempt by the Colorado General Assembly to combat the issue of tuition with gambling issues.
In 2007, the House Agricultural Committee shot down Amendment 50, which would have used similar parlors to fund the stateâ€™s junior college system. The Gaming Commission of Colorado helped kill momentum for the bill, and some argue the same will happen to Bill 233 this year.
Rep. Randy Fischer of Fort Collins, who was a ranking member of the agricultural committee in 2006, said, â€œMany were concerned about trying to fund vital activities of the state through gambling. We realize that there is a high price to pay for gambling, similar to a sin tax.â€
Some argue, though, that students are the ones who need to play a larger role in determining the funding of higher education.
Colorado Rep. John Kefalas argues, â€œIf we [Colorado] are going to get serious about cutting higher educational costs then students will have to get more engaged.â€
There is doubt among some over whether or not gambling alone can surmount the money needed to get Coloradoâ€™s ailing higher education spending back to past levels.
A 2010 study conducted by the Colorado Strategic Plan for Higher Education entitled â€œThe Degree Dividendâ€ found that Colorado would need to spend $760 million dollars to reach current spending in future years. The study also found that Colorado would need to spend over $1 billion to match the national average.
â€œPeople need to realize that the deficiencies we face are huge and that gambling alone canâ€™t cover them,â€ Fischer said.
Both Fischer and Kefalas described the difficulty faced by state legislators in fixing issues such as higher educational costs. The implementation of the Tax Payerâ€™s Bill of Rights in 1992 stated that no tax hikes could occur without the consensus of the people.
This makes it difficult to raise money for higher education, as it requires a tax hike, which the population may not support.
â€œWe face many constitution contradictions here in Colorado,â€ Kefalas said. â€œWeâ€™re not allowed to raise taxes statewide without support from the people, and yet weâ€™re also not allowed to use deficit spending to cover the costs that we face.â€
Funding for the stateâ€™s public universities comes from the stateâ€™s general fund. This fund also goes toward covering infrastructure, K-12 education and many other necessities. This makes further cuts to higher education more likely, as only 6 percent of the fund is â€œdiscretionaryâ€ and up for grabs.
â€œThe state owes the public the right to a better education, and all ideas for supporting it [higher education] should be on the table,â€ Kefalas said.
The committee hearing to discuss the bill was canceled due to lack of time, and it has yet to be rescheduled.
Christopher Boan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the bill:
- Senate Bill 233 would allow 5,000 â€˜video lottery machinesâ€™ to be set up anywhere in the state, with the income generated supporting higher education
- Expected to generated $81 million for the state