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Time to decide on slots

April 13, 2004

As this is being written, the Maryland General Assembly is slogging through the last day of the 2004 session. The budget is balanced, but the proposal to legalize slot machines has been called "extremely dead' by Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller.

That's unfortunate. We agree with House Speaker Michael Busch that the state needs a plan for its financial future, and that some decisions need to be made this year, as opposed to putting everything off until the 2005 session.

That's especially true because as everyone on both sides of slots debate agrees, it will take two years before there's a real revenue stream flowing from this form of legalized gambling. If it's going to be another year before legalization, no significant revenues will arrive prior to 2007.

That's too long to wait for an answer to this question. As we've said previously, during his campaign, Gov. Robert Ehrlich made no secret of his desire to make slots part of the solution. If that's not going to happen, the state needs to find other revenue sources to keep up with Maryland's growing need in areas such as Medicaid costs, for example.

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Ehrlich has opposed raising the state's income tax - which was lowered in the previous administration - and has ruled out a sales tax hike as well.

As Pennsylvanians have learned in the last year, failing to deal with financial problems does not make them go away. Sometimes it makes them worse.

It's time to deal with this problem. If there's not going to be a special session, a revenue bill should be crafted over the summer by a bipartisan group, then passed early in 2005.

Because Maryland has no exclusive franchise on slots, it follows that they will not be the revenue bonanza that Ehrlich hopes for. They'll help, but probably not enough to avoid raising any taxes.

On that issue, we recommend revisiting the recommendations of the Linowes Commission, which recommended extending the sales tax to things like legal services that are not now covered. To those who argue that that would make it more costly do business, we agree, but so will any measure that raises the revenue Maryland needs.

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