What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I saw Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit film, and it’s a good movie if you don’t mind the director taking major liberties with the plot of the novel. If you’re a dedicated fan of Tolkien’s story, you will probably agree with Christopher Orr, who called it “bad fan fiction.” What I appreciate about Jackson is that unlike George Lucas (massively overrated as a director in my opinion), he didn’t try to make his film too much of a kids’ movie. There were plenty of children in the theater audience, but The Hobbit doesn’t include as many stupid characters or cheap laughs as the Star Wars movies.
Today’s edition of the Sunday Des Moines Register contains some findings from the latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co. The margins of error are large due to small sample sizes of Iowa Democrats and Republicans, but the headline news is that Hillary Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable numbers are 50 percent/45 percent with all Iowa respondents and 89 percent/7 percent with Democrats surveyed by Selzer between December 8 and 11. In other words, this poll does not support the narrative I’ve argued against repeatedly, which holds that Clinton “needs” to do more retail campaigning here to compensate for her allegedly poor Iowa caucuses showing and failure to connect with Iowans. In my view, Clinton didn’t do as badly here in 2008 as some people believe, nor is she as unpopular among rank and file Iowa Democrats as some bloggers imagine. She will not have any substantial Democratic competition here or anywhere else if she runs for president again.
Speaking of unfounded beliefs, backers of proposed casinos in Cedar Rapids and Jefferson (Greene County) talk a good game about the economic development their projects will bring. Economists Ernie Goss of Creighton University and Dave Swenson of Iowa State University threw cold water on those claims during this weekend’s edition of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program. Excerpts are after the jump, including Goss’ memorable comparison of some casinos to a “neutron bomb” that “destroys” surrounding local businesses such as restaurants.
This is an open thread: all topics welcome.
Henderson: Gentlemen, let’s shift to a state issue. There are some jurisdictions in Iowa that would dearly love to have a casino. Mr. Swenson, what is the economic impact in your view of adding more casinos to the state’s economy?
Swenson: Historically the casinos on the borders make sense, not statistically economically and as well as for state revenues because you’re able to attract visitors to spend and to leave tax dollars on this side of the river. And so the river, the boundary casinos were a way to boost the state’s economy. Interior casinos significantly compete with all other forms of recreation and so what you end up with is a cannibalization or a shifting of entertainment locations and focuses into it can be beneficial to the hosting community but overall it’s not a net gain to the regional economy. The probability that those regions are drawing from a long ways away or especially from out of state bringing new money in is pretty low. So you — but the passions for them whether it is Ottumwa or Fort Dodge or Cedar Rapids or now Jefferson are extraordinary because these communities have so few ways to try to boost their economy.
Borg: But the state is increasingly thirsty for that revenue.
Goss: Oh, it’s — absolutely. And you’ve got 18 commercial casinos plus the travel casinos and if you look at it as entertainment, fine. But if you’re talking about economic development I don’t think it’s there. The numbers you’re seeing, as you see more and more casinos in Iowa, in Illinois, in Missouri, in Kansas even where they’re growing their casino business, they’re competing for, we’re competing for a lot of the same dollars and it’s a high tax industry. You’re talking about instead of 7% of sales tax you’re talking about 20% to 25% of tax on the net proceeds of a casino. So it drains the taxpayer and it drains in terms of some of the other amusement, some of the alternatives, restaurants in the community. It can really be a negative for them. And as Dave said, it makes a lot more sense on the borders. Interior, not nearly as much.
Henderson: So where’s the pendulum on this? At what point does the public say the social cost and the economic cost is not worth it?
Goss: I’m not sure the public will ever say that. The public seems to think that we need our own casinos. It’s kind of like a nuclear weapon. I mean, we want our own protection, we’re all vying for our own nuclear weapon and in a lot of cases when you put a casino in some places — now I’m not talking about all casinos — like a neutron bomb it destroys a lot of what is outside the casino. And when somebody goes to a casino they don’t necessarily drop off to the local restaurant, let’s eat, let’s go to the zoo, let’s go to the museum, they’re headed for that casino and they do drop some money there.
Obradovich: Speaking of tax revenue, go ahead if you wanted to add to that.
Swenson: No, that was good enough.
Obradovich: You don’t have a bomb analogy?
Swenson: I was going to say I can’t follow up on a neutron bomb.