Ehrlich won't compromise on slot machine legislation

April 02, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Tuesday he won't agree to tax increases in order to get his slot machine legislation passed.

And he warned that the state will be facing painful cuts without the $700 million a year it has been estimated would roll in from new gambling.

"It is far more important to us not to balance the overspending practices of the past few years on the backs of the taxpayers than it is to pass slots," Ehrlich said in an interview with reporters Tuesday.


With the House Ways and Means Committee slated to vote on the bill today, Ehrlich's slots proposal faces serious opposition. Two local lawmakers on the committee are split, with Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, opposing slots and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, in favor.

Budget Secretary James "Chip" DiPaula made a final pitch to the committee Tuesday, telling skeptical lawmakers the money is needed to avoid layoffs, further cuts in local government aid and to help pay for the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission plan to increase aid for public schools.

Ehrlich made the same dire predictions.

"You can't have that kind of a budget hole. These decisions have profound repercussions over the next few years," Ehrlich said.

Even with slots, the state will face a shortfall next year, which is one reason House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has suggested the state needs to raise income or sales taxes to meet the burden.

Ehrlich has threatened to veto such proposals, but he and Ehrlich have been meeting daily to try to work out a compromise.

Ehrlich said slots are important, but not at the expense of breaking a campaign promise not to raise taxes.

"It's not so important to me that we violate our word. This is a fundamental thing for us," he said.

Ehrlich said he supports education funding, but criticized the legislature for being short-sighted and approving it without knowing where the money would come from.

"They bought it and didn't pay for it," Ehrlich said. "The use of credit cards by state government is a very dangerous thing."

On March 22, the Senate narrowly approved a bill to legalize slot machines at four Maryland racetracks.

A proposed track in Allegany County, just west of Washington County, would be allowed to have 1,000 machines.

The Senate has tied the approval of slots to the fiscal 2004 budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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