AUGUSTA — A proposal by Gov. Paul LePage would take $14 million in casino funds earmarked for public schools and move it to the state General Fund to help fill a $112 million budget gap.
Democratic lawmakers, including the chairman of the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, said that would set "a really bad precedent," according to a report in the Portland Press Herald on Friday.
The proposal is part of a plan that helps solve a budget shortfall in the state's current fiscal year budget ending in June of this year. Lawmakers are expected to settle on the supplemental budget sometime in February.
Voters approved the Oxford Casino in 2010 under the promise that 46 percent of the profits would help fund public education in Maine.
Scott Smith, a spokesman for the casino in the town of Oxford, said Friday that the owners and operators of the casino were proud of the way the referendum was written and of how casino revenue would help the intended recipients.
Smith stopped short of criticizing the governor's budget proposal, saying only that casino officials would defer to the Legislature on how the money is divvied up.
"It's just that simple," Smith said. "We are really proud of the job creation and the private investment and everything that we are doing but very gratified also with the recipients that were part our initial referendum. But we do respect the legislative process and how that works."
Dennis Bailey, a Portland-based political consultant who helped organize opposition to several statewide casino votes in Maine, including Oxford, said he wasn't surprised LePage was looking to divert the funds from schools.
"One of our objections has always been that once you let casinos in the door with big payoffs to state government, the state becomes dependent on the revenues, the same way a gambling addict needs his fix," Bailey wrote in a message.
"Government is supposed to be looking out for the welfare of its citizens; instead, it in effect becomes a partner in fleecing them," Bailey wrote. "This is just another example of how the voters get swindled."