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Thursday, March 6, 2008

MD Should Approve Slots Now

George Wenschhof
It was not a surprise today when Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot announced state revenues were lagging behind due to a worsening economy. The state's Board of Revenue Estimates forecast a 330 million shortfall. This will have to be offset by additional budget cuts or tax increases as the state budget is required to be balanced.,0,354321.story
Governor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly passed on making the difficult decision on whether to legalize video lottery terminals during a special legislative session last fall. Instead, they approved a constitutional amendment to be placed on the 2008 ballot to let the voters to decide on this issue.
Perhaps the Governor felt it was better to avoid a colossal battle between Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller, a proponent of slots and House Leader Michael Busch who has long opposed generating revenue for the state from slots.
During the special session, O'Malley used phrases like "the slots battle had lasted longer than the civil war" and his often used line "there is more that unites us than divides us" to garner the votes needed to put this question to a referendum.
With the rancor surrounding the debate of slots removed, the Maryland General Assembly went on to approve tax hikes and some budget reductions as they nudged the state closer in closing the projected 1.7 billion deficit. This left several hundred million in budget reductions for the Governor to reconcile in the Budget he would submit the following year in the Maryland General Assembly regular session.
Unfortunately, no revenues were received by the state this year by this action. Promises of future revenues for the state with the passage of this constitutional amendment by the voters is hardly guaranteed.
Back in November, I called for the General Assembly to take up the issue of slots in January: I also discussed what to expect when the General Assembly convened in January:
Although time is waning, the state legislature should consider all options, including slots, to bridge the gap of an additional 300 million revenue shortfall. The uncertainty with the economy would indicate the budget deficit will only grow larger.
The racing industry in Maryland, facing tough times and perhaps closures, would also benefit by legislation which placed video lottery terminals at existing race tracks. The infrastructure is there and betting is already occurring so this would seem to be an answer to raising necessary revenue and keeping the racing industry in Maryland.
Selling the licenses to the race tracks now would raise immediate revenue. This, coupled with a negotiated percentage on a yearly basis would add needed revenue to state coffers in years to come. This would balance the state budget without additional increases in taxes on the working men and women or a reduction in the valuable services being provided by the state today.

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