Speaker's 'false alarm' stalls vote on slots again

September 10, 2004

Earlier this week, when news reports indicated that Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch might finally be ready to deal on the issue of slot machines, an aide to the governor expressed his doubts.

Is it a real opportunity, asked Paul Schurick, the governor's communications director, or "just another false alarm"?

It was a false alarm, apparently. It's the latest in a series from Busch, who has bottled up slot-machine bills for the last two years. It's time for the speaker to allow an up-or-down vote on the governor's proposal.

Busch has blocked previous bills for a variety of reasons, but his main argument is that there needs to be a comprehensive approach to financing the state's future needs.

In Busch's view, that approach should include increased taxes, something Gov. Robert Ehrlich is opposed to.

Ehrlich was elected on a platform that included the legalization of slots and a no-new-taxes pledge.


We have said previously that while Busch might indeed be right on the tax issue, it makes more sense to see what slots yield, then make the case that it isn't enough.

That may be difficult in the coming year because the past two budgets have been balanced by raising every fee that couldn't be called a tax and by borrowing from every available fund. The supply of accounting tricks is all used up.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania has legalized slots, which means Marylanders who enjoy this form of gambling will soon have another reason to spend their money out of state.

The proposal to put this plan to referendum, less than three months before the election, was a bad idea. The pro- and anti-gambling forces would have had little time to make a coherent case for their point of views.

In addition, the details proposed for the referendum - the allowable number of slot machines and their locations - are issues that should be worked out in the legislature.

That's what should happen in January. We urge Busch to work for the best possible bill, then allow lawmakers to vote on it.

There is no such thing as a perfect bill, but there's a good case to be made that this is revenue Maryland needs - revenue that will be going elsewhere unless a compromise can be reached.

Even if the vote goes against gambling, that will be a form of progress because it will allow lawmakers to concentrate on other matters on which the chance of success is better.

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