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The delegation's decision

November 26, 2003

In a recent article about John Donoghue, the lone Democrat in the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, Republican Del. Chris Shank said that Donoghue needs to decide whether he'll work with the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich or be an obstructionist. But whether or not Shank realizes it, that's the same decision facing all the delegation's members.

Gov. Ehrlich wants to pass a bill legalizing slot machines at the state's horse tracks, but House Speaker Michael Busch has said the bill won't fly unless a substantial number of Republicans back it.

Ehrlich apparently took Busch seriously, according to a survey by The Baltimore Sun, which said the state's chief executive has persuaded 34 of the legislature's 57 Republicans to back a slots bill. That total includes some lawmakers who were previously opposed to the idea.

An Associated Press story done on the survey said Ehrlich has sold the lawmakers on the idea as an alternative to raising taxes. But some Republicans who stand with him now say they'll bolt if the money is not dedicated to education, if locations other than horse tracks are involved and if the bill is tied to new taxes.

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So where does that leave the members of the Washington County delegation? In the middle, unfortunately, at a time when they need to have a strategy for getting $1.8 million in operating funds for the downtown Hagerstown campus of the University System of Maryland.

State Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, held his nose and voted for a cigarette tax increase the last governor sought as the price of getting campus construction funds. Now the delegation members have to decide what they're willing to do to get this facility open.

We suggest that they lobby for a bill that would legalize slots only at the horse tracks, with limits on new tracks and more study of additional non-track locations. We suggest that Donoghue use whatever influence he has with Busch to keep Democrats from linking the slots bill with other taxes.

Maryland needs the revenue gambling would provide - and which lawmakers are loathe to raise by increasing taxes. Those who oppose slots must make their position credible by identifying other revenue sources or programs that could be cut. Barring that, it's time to make the best possible deal and move forward.

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