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Don't marry these two

January 27, 1997

The proposal to link a cut in Maryland's personal income-tax rate with a plan to put slot machines in the state's horse tracks is a mistake that will prevent either idea from being considered on its merits. Because they're both so complicated, each deserves a separate look.

First, the gambling issue: Gov. Parris Glendening has vowed to veto any bill permitting casino-type gambling. Writing in the Jan. 19 Washington Post, he said that "Maryland's economic future is about science and technology, not one-armed bandits and spinning roulette wheels." He concluded the piece by saying, "No casinos! No slots! No exceptions!"

Faced with such resolve, pro-grambling lawmakers decided to link the tax cut to proposals to help horse racing with slot machine revenues. The new idea would be to use a portion of the slot money to finance the tax cut. Those backing this idea are apparently cynical enough to believe that citizens are so eager for a tax cut, they'll swallow anything to get it. We believe citizens are smarter than that.

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For one thing, a slot-funded tax cut would net the average family less than $200 a year, while bringing the state a whole new set of costly problems related to gambling. They include an increase in business bankruptcies due to addictive gambling and a greater need for state services - in the justice system and couseling areas - to deal with such problems.

Horse racing's problem is that at least in this region, it's not seen as the sport of kings anymore. Except for a few races, like Baltimore's Preakness and the International at Laurel, there's little glamor associated with this activity, and the tracks haven't done much to get younger patrons interested. What we'd like to see is a comprehensive look at what succesful tracks elsewhere have done, and such a study would require more time than is available during the legislature's regular session.

The personal income-tax cut, however, has been studied, and economic-development experts have established its importance as a "red flag" issue for industries seeking new locations. Determining how to fund it will be difficult enough this session without confusing it with the slot-machine issue.

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