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Quarters can't buy votes for slots proposal

April 08, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Great, now what am I supposed to do with all these quarters? I better put them back in the Mason jars and rebury them under the back porch, because last week the supporters of slot machines in Maryland rolled snake eyes in a House of Delegates tax committee.

Actually it wasn't snake ayes, it was snake nays. And a lot of them. In a 22-member committee, slot supporters were able to scrape together only five votes. Five votes! I've seen bills sponsored by Alex Mooney that got more votes than that, for crying out loud.

This was a slaughter. Apparently the House was peeved because leaders thought they had a deal with the governor to balance the budget with a combination of slots and taxes. But in a classic bait and switch operation, Gov. Bob Ehrlich pulled taxes off the table at the last moment, leading the Ways and Means Committee to take the slots bill and go home.

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By the time you read this all may have changed, but I certainly hope not. I don't care about slots or taxes one way or the other, but I do have a strong interest in seeing a big, bubbling pot of anger simmering away in Annapolis over the next nine months until they have to revisit the issue in 2004.

I want the two sides to hate each other so bad they can't even agree on a joint resolution in support of kittens.

They're off to a good start. Senate President Mike Miller said of Ehrlich and House Speaker Mike Busch: "You have one jock challenging another jock in a game of chicken. And what's at stake is education for the children of the State of Maryland. And it is wrong. I mean it is dead wrong."

Oh poo. What's dead wrong is financially tying the albatross of a borderline vice around the neck of public school children, then threatening to send education to the bottom of the sea if some grandmother from York, Pa., fails to gain the inalienable privilege to throw her Dippity Do money into a tin box at Laurel.

Even Comptroller W.D. "Forty" Schaefer tried to grease the skids, saying, "We've got to have slot machines. You can bet poor people are going to be hit very hard if we don't."

You can 'bet.' Get it? Ha ha. And yes, by all means, the poor people will indeed be hit very hard if they are prevented from gambling away their earnings. That makes sense.

Miller further blamed the "naysayers who caved in to the casino owners in Atlantic City (and) tyrants in the media."

Tyrants? Oh please. We're really just pussycats when you get to know us. We don't meeaaan nuthin'.

And we are full of good ideas and alternatives. For example, here's what you can do: Go to West Virginia and Delaware and Atlantic City and tell them that Maryland will not legalize slots - if you give us $100 million each.

What's that? Oh come now, "extortion" is such an unpleasant word. I prefer to think of it as gambling-dollar-cost-averaging.

Everybody would win. Delaware and West Virginia, for a relatively small cost, would avoid competition. Maryland would get its revenue without sullying its hands in an unsavory institution. Education is funded. The poor suffer no cuts to programs that benefit them. The track owners and gambling contractors get - oops. I guess everybody doesn't win after all.

Nuts, how could I have overlooked the most important link? This plan does nothing, absolutely nothing, to benefit in- and out-of-state millionaires.

We simply must have a plan to protect them. What kind of media tyrant would I be if I advocated anything less?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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