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Hold special session and resolve the slots question

April 12, 2004

Should there be a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to deal with the issue of legalizing slot machines?

Yes. This matter should be voted up or down this year. And state officials should stop the silly talk about running gaming themselves.

The current impasse over slots boils down to a difference of opinion between Gov. Robert Ehrlich and House Speaker Michael Busch.

When he ran, Ehrlich made no secret of the fact that he favored slots and that he opposed raising the state's income tax, lowered during the last administration. Ehrlich also opposed a state sales increase.

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Speaker Busch came to power after the surprise defeat of Caspar Taylor. He successfully killed the slots bill last year and is holding the bill hostage in a bid to enact a tax increase.

Busch also has little regard for the state's horse racing industry, even though it employs many and preserves open space through the operation of breeding farms.

If slots are legalized - and we have no doubt they will be if the alternative is a tax increase - they should be at the state's existing horse tracks. That's true not only because they would assist the industry, but because it would avoid the "not -in-my-backyard" fights sure to come if other sites are chosen. It's hard to say no to gambling if you've already had it for decades.

It's also easier to let people run gambling who know how. As Christopher Summers of the Maryland Public Policy Institute wrote on this page April 2, if the state was any good at running entertainment facilities, Rocky Gap wouldn't be in the red.

Busch's call for a long-term revenue solution for Maryland makes sense, but first we want to see the results of former Gov. Marvin Mandel's study committee on government streamlining. Maryland needs a long-term revenue solution, but it also needs a plan for how to staff government for the next 10 or 20 years.

Finally, Busch did not run for statewide office and has no mandate for his position. He's talked about putting gambling on a referendum ballot, but in a sense, there's already been a vote on it, and Ehrlich won. It's time to decide how to do it, without tying approval to a tax increase. That may come in future years, but in our view, citizens haven't been sold on the need for that yet.

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