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Sen. Munson: Referendum may decide slots' fate

May 07, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

One day after the Maryland General Assembly adjourned last month, Sen. Donald F. Munson encouraged one of the governor's key advisers to pursue a voter referendum on slot machines.

It's not that Munson, R-Washington, wants a referendum. He said he doesn't think it's necessary and furthermore, he believes it's the legislature's duty to decide on slots.

But after two years of obstruction by the Maryland House of Delegates, Munson said he thinks it may be the best way to spur action on Gov. Robert Ehrlich's chief money-raising plan.

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"If it wins hugely, that's certainly something the General Assembly can't ignore," said Munson, who has voted for slots for the past two years.

Munson isn't the only one who thinks it's a good idea to put the issue on the ballot in November.

Legislative leaders have begun discussions about a possible special session this summer to make that happen.

House Speaker Michael Busch, the chief opponent of slots, said Thursday that the talks "are in an embryonic stage."

"It's very premature to suggest that anything will happen," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.

He said the only thing to which he and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller had agreed was to sit down with the governor to see if a special session was plausible.

Ehrlich has consistently objected to putting the issue before voters, saying public officials are elected to make tough decisions and not hand them off to the voters.

Busch said that before he would consider a special session, there would have to be substantial agreement on how slot machine gambling would be implemented.

Major issues to be resolved include how many machines would be authorized, where they would be located and how the proceeds would be divided.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., a local slots opponent, said he would like any referendum question to spell out where the state intends to locate the machines.

Jurisdictions that do not vote for slots should not have to host them, said Myers, R-Allegany/Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, agreed.

"They're making a decision for their jurisdiction," he said.

Although Munson said he believes state residents would overwhelmingly vote for slots, Donoghue said he wasn't so sure.

"It's such a divided issue, he said. "When it's an important policy change, which this is, it deserves the vote of the people."

The legislature would have to act this summer for the issue to be placed on the November ballot.

The Maryland Board of Elections has to certify the state ballot by Sept. 8, said Mary Cramer Wager, deputy director of the election management division.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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