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Munson changes slots stance

October 10, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Sen. Donald F. Munson, a longtime opponent of legalizing slot machines, said Wednesday he would consider allowing the issue to go to referendum to raise money for education.

With the state facing a $1.7 billion budget deficit, the state won't be able to fulfill its promise to boost aid to local school boards in future years without a new revenue source, Munson, R-Washington, said at a candidates forum organized by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Munson said he doesn't want to increase other taxes, but he would consider legalizing slot machines at racetracks.

"I don't see any way around this," he said.

Munson said he would expect the state to reimburse Washington County for any decline in tip jar gambling revenues that slots would bring.

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Democrat Mary Newby, who is trying to unseat Munson in the Nov. 5 election, outlined a similar position on slot machines at the forum.

She said she would want the money to be earmarked specifically for education, which is crucial to the county's future.

"Education is the ultimate economic development tool," she said.

The issue of slots came up when candidates were asked how the state would pay for a $1.3 billion education spending plan passed by the legislature last year. The first two years are funded by a 34-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax.

The forum, which was held at the Four Points Sheraton, was broadcast Wednesday night on Antietam Cable. It will be repeated Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.

Budget questions dominated the forum, which featured all five candidates for three state Senate seats in Washington County.

"It's a terrible situation we're facing," said Sen. John J. Hafer, who is running unopposed in a newly redrawn district that includes western Washington County and Allegany and Garrett counties.

Hafer said it largely will be up to the next governor to fill the budget gap.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said out-of-control spending led by a Democratic administration resulted in the budget problems.

His opponent, Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, downplayed the budget deficit.

"Every state is feeling the effects of a national recession," she said.

Hecht said other states have not fared as well as Maryland, which enjoys an excellent AAA bond rating and has been able to balance its budget without employee layoffs or tax increases.

Moderator Bob Maginnis, Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail, admonished candidates not to attack their opponents. Because it was not a debate forum, there would have been no chance for rebuttal.

The Chamber is conducting two more forums this month, both of which will air on Antietam Cable.

Candidates for Washington County Commissioner will appear Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 a.m. at Four Points.

Candidates for Maryland House of Delegates will appear Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 a.m. at the Clarion Hotel.

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