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Keeping one's promises

March 12, 2003

Be careful about the promises you make, because your political foes won't let you forget them. Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, whose bill to bring slot-machine gambling to the state's horse tracks is faltering, seems trapped again by his own words.

Earlier in the debate, legislators said Ehrlich had promised to fund the educational recommendations of the Thornton Commission, whether or not slots won approval. That was in stark contrast to his "no slots, no Thornton" statement made at a state senate hearing late last month.

Now lawmakers have turned up an August article written by Ehrlich in which he pledged to veto any bill that didn't give areas where slots would be located the right to refuse them. Ehrlich's current bill doesn't say that, no doubt because it would jeopardize a horse track planned for Allegany County, where there's some strong opposition to it.

As we said last week, Ehrlich's slots strategy, which is apparently being made up as the session goes along, does not give us much confidence that the system will work as he envisions it, or, for that matter, that anyone in his administration has any idea how it will work. Finding out how slots function in Delaware or West Virginia, then borrowing the best of those systems makes a lot more sense than reinventing the wheel.

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Such research would top the agenda of a study commission that would be created under a bill introduced this week by House Speaker Michael Busch, a slots opponent.

Busch's bill would create a 16- member group - eight senators and eight delegates - who would study the issue between June 1 and Dec. 31. Then they'd issue a report.

It seems clear that if Ehrlich is going to pass the slot bill this year, he needs to do two things. The first is to show the legislature how it would work, using methods proven in other states.

Then the governor needs to do as his Pennsylvania counterpart Ed Rendell did recently and give the legislature two budgets. One would show the budget with slot revenues, the other with the cuts that would have to be made without them. Then it would be up to legislators to choose, and choose wisely.

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