Mayor Stoney’s Ultimatum: A Casino or Higher Taxes. Whatever Happened To Responsible Governance?

by | Sep 7, 2023 | LETTER TO THE EDITOR, PINNED, RICHMOND POLITICS, VIRGINIA POLITICS

Two years ago, Mayor Stoney and casino advocates pushed for their referendum because they claimed it would bring jobs and revenue and tourism and entertainment options to Richmond. They said they would hire only local workers (even though it is unenforceable). They said they would hire at least 40% minority businesses as contractors. They said no city money would be spent to build it. They said anything they could to get you to vote for it — and the city still said “No, thank you. We don’t want a casino.” 

In 2021, the first casino referendum failed even though the casino advocates spent $2.5 million on mailers and billboards — but they never mentioned helping children beyond giving a pittance to Richmond Public Schools ($150,000 over five years, according to the 2023 ordinance) — and neither the mayor nor anyone else ever mentioned establishing a trust fund for anyone for any cause. 

Now, in a smoky backroom and obvious buy-your-vote scam, Stoney and the casino advocates are promising to create a trust fund to help fund early childhood education that will spend 2/3 of the projected annual casino tax revenues due to the city’s general fund. Stoney said to CBS6“We’ve identified the crisis in the city. We’ve also presented a solution to fix that crisis and it’s my hope that if you agree with this solution, you come out and support the vote yes, in November.”

Stoney took office in 2017 and established a Children’s Cabinet that has done bits and pieces but virtually nothing substantial — until they realized they could use the casino to buy votes in 2023 to try once again to approve the casino.  Note that the trust fund vote scam ONLY BECOMES A REALITY if the casino referendum passes — and if it were approved, the deal could be (would be) structurally altered from whatever you heard this week. They tell us, “just pass the referendum and trust us!” 

What is so morally bankrupt is that the mayor has said that the idea of a trust fund for children is ONLY a worthy idea if the referendum passes. If it is defeated (again), he will not try and establish such a trust fund. Sorry, kids. If the adults aren’t playing blackjack, then you aren’t getting the help you need.  

The trust fund idea only sits well with Stoney if it is accompanied by a casino. Forget about the tens of millions of dollars the city has seen in budget surpluses in recent years; forget about the $275 million in federal funding the city has received since the start of Covid; forget that for the last seven years, Stoney’s solution to helping children was not responsible government budgeting or smart allocation of resources, but waiting for a second casino referendum to use as leverage to buy or guilt votes that will worsen gambling addiction and drain wealth from individuals, households, and families.

Local activist and casino opponent Alan Charles-Chipman said in an interview “I think it’s a terrible idea to rob the parents to pay the kids. To do what’s virtuous and support our kids, we don’t have to rely on vices.”

He added, “I don’t think we can afford a roll of the dice for our democracy because developers and politicians didn’t get the election results they wanted.” 

It’s also important to remember the bullying tactics from the mayor are not just about getting your vote for a trust fund; he now says that if the casino does not get approved, he will raise taxes. NBC 12 reported that Stoney said his plan B was a tax hike

“Outside of [approving the casino], the alternative is us trying to find ways through raising taxes using the revenue that we currently have. We would obviously want to avoid that,” the mayor said.

In case you forgot, the mayor offered up a two cent tax reduction in early 2022 if voters approved a second casino referendum after the first referendum failed. 

A mere 18 months ago, Stoney said“We’ve seen everything is going up. The price of gas, the price of your Oreos, all are going up across the country, and so, we think right now, people are deserving of that two-cent tax cut on the real estate taxes.”

But now, as the vote draws near, he is threatening tax increases if the referendum is not approved in November. 

There is no question that helping prepare our children and educate them is one of the most important things we can do. We can all support that goal and most people can support responsible ways to fund and achieve it by staying focused and using resources wisely instead of depending on a predatory casino for largesse

Tying our children’s futures and our city’s future to the passage of a casino referendum is not a responsible strategy at all. It is nothing but a senseless gamble to bet our children’s future on funding from thousands of slot machines, decks of cards and the incessant rolling of the dice. 

And while they tell you it is for the kids, this kind of disingenuous recklessness only serves to fatten politicians’ campaign accounts and make the casino owners and investors literally hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions). 

That is not a gamble anyone should be willing to take or make. 

Main image from Church Hills People News

You can read more from Jon Baliles HERE

Jon Baliles

Jon Baliles

Jon Baliles is the founder and editor of the Substack RVA 5x5 newsletter (https://rva5x5.substack.com). He spent a decade in City Hall as a member of City Council and also served as an advisor to Mayors Wilder and Stoney and also served as the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Planning Department.




more in politics

Editorial Roundtable on the Richmond & Virginia Elections 

As we find ourselves in the middle point of summer, the upcoming months will bring pivotal decisions for our community as we elect our next mayor, city council and school board members followed by the gubernatorial election next year. Over the past few months, we have...

Dispatch From Cuba 2015

I wanted to give a bit of context for this piece. I was introduced to Bill one afternoon at the local watering hole by a mutual friend. Bill, a talented and experienced writer, shared some of his work with me, and I was interested to read more. When I asked if he had...

RVA 5×5 | Bonding With (Or Against) The People?

There has been a lot of activity across the region recently about bond ratings and localities issuing bonds. It is a timely comparison of priorities of local leaders, a glimpse of a possible future, and what happens if you have people in charge who worry more about...