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Saying 'no' not enough

March 17, 2003

With the end of the Maryland General Assembly's 2003 session fast approaching, there's still no clear consensus on what to do about the multi-million-dollar hole in the state's budget. Given the latest revenue forecasts, there's no way to put off the hard choices for another year.

Last week Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and the state's Board of Revenue Estimates issued a report predicting a drop in state tax revenue of $100 million this year and a comparable amount next year. That's probably on target, giving the poor performance of the stock market, the increase in fuel prices and uncertainty over the impending war with Iraq.

One proposed solution comes from Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who'd like to place slot machines in most of the state's horse tracks. Ehrlich says slots will raise $1.5 billion a year, with $650 million going to track owners, $77 million to horse owners and breeders. That would leave $643 million a year for education.

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On the other side is House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, standing with a variety of religious leaders and anti-gambling groups who feel slots will do the state more harm than good, siphoning money away from other businesses like restaurants and creating a whole new group of addicted gamblers.

Last week Ehrlich seemed willing to split the difference to get the bill passed, asking members of Maryland's business community what they could live with in regards to measures needed to balance the budget. One possibility is the increase in the state's share of the property tax, from 8 to 13 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

This is an old refrain with us, but it's relevant, so here goes: Those who are opposed to new taxes and/or slot machines have a responsibility to do more than just saying no. If elected officials say no to one thing, they must say yes to something else.

That's because the average citizen cannot spend 90 days in Annapolis, scrutinizing the budget and the operations of the state government.

It's up to the people elected and paid by the citizens to do the hard work of searching for savings and crafting compromises. Sitting on the sidelines while others do the hard work is totally unacceptable.

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