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Gambling with his reputation

At least we now know his price. Jim Horne, former education commissioner and former legislative opponent of legalized slot machines, says gaming companies are paying him $100,000 to hawk a ballot amendment that would put slots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

As the recently resigned commissioner, Horne can play precisely the political role the gaming industry seeks. He'll be the Ralph Turlington of slots, putting the official stamp of Florida education on a constitutional amendment really aimed at gambling. Turlington, another former education commissioner, led the fight in 1986 to create the Florida Lottery, which he then called the "Education Lottery."

Horne already has learned his lines. "Amendment 4 is not about gambling," he told reporters. "It is about improving Florida schools."

The sell might be tougher this time around, given that the lottery is now almost universally condemned as a fraud on education. It was supposed to "enhance" public schools, but instead was used to divert general taxes to other purposes.

Not only has the lottery failed to produce bigger education budgets, but it also has produced a public cynicism that has cost individual school districts that have tried to pass school tax referendums.

In a 1995 survey, 80 percent of Hillsborough County voters who opposed a tax increase for schools cited the lottery as their reason. In 1997, an education group gathered 400,000 signatures for a constitutional amendment to force the state to live up to the lottery promise, only to have the Supreme Court throw the initiative off the ballot.

As a senator, Horne once sponsored his own bill to divert lottery money to construction, as though building schools was somehow the kind of educational "enhancement" voters had approved. Now, as a pitchman for gaming interests, he's saying slot machines will give schoolchildren a better chance in life. The racetracks are trying to buy credibility, for which Horne has set his own market price.

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