O'Malley should beat the dead horse industry

October 28, 2007|By Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons

To the editor:


As befitting the season of masquerade and scary events, Maryland taxpayers are about to experience a "Carrie" moment. Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to siphon off $l00 million each year from the treasury and hand it out to Maryland horse racing. The dead hand of Maryland horse racing has reached out from the grave and grabbed taxpayers by the throat.

Giving a bulging goody bag to Maryland horse racing is quite a trick when citizens are rightly being asked to pay higher taxes for education, transportation and health care.

Gov. O'Malley has performed a tricky sleight of hand by claiming that horse racing is an integral part of Maryland's economy and the preservation of open space.


He has turned a $100 million a year handout to horse racing owners into a crusade to save thousands of jobs and acres of green space. It is as breathtaking in its audacity as it is in its masquerading of the truth.

But the facts are not easily disguised and are frighteningly simple. Plummeting public interest and support has made horse racing an apparition of its former self. Maryland's gross state product - that is the total value of goods and services - is $258 billion, more than twice the combined product of Delaware and West Virginia. Maryland horse racing represents approximately .2 percent of Maryland's total economy and the 9,000 jobs attributable to horse racing constitutes .3 percent of the 2.6 million jobs in the state.

The loss of Maryland horse racing isn't about the loss of an industry. Truth be told it's about the loss of a venerable political and plantation class.

The political class is comprised of gamblers, entrepreneurs and freebooters who selectively preach the virtues of the free market while demanding handouts and public subsidies for themselves. They are an unfailing source of campaign contributions and the last vestige of the tobacco-road culture that is sentimentalized and embraced by prominent southern Maryland politicians.

The plantation class is sustained by 9,000 mostly low-paid workers living a hardscrabble life. They fill dead-end, part- time jobs without health insurance or other benefits.

What about the alleged loss of open space if some horse racing farms pack it in? Tom Perez, O'Malley's Secretary of Labor and Licensing has been racing across the Maryland countryside and sounding the alarm, "the townhouses are coming, the townhouses are coming." He has conjured up the hobgoblin of residential development gobbling up green space.

Don't be afraid. It is a spooky illusion without a body of facts. Local governments have more than enough police power to control zoning and the preservation of open space.

Thus, instead of ending the charade, Gov. O'Malley has decided to annually subsidize it with $100 million dollars in slot machine revenues - a predatory operation described by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley on WBAL Radio as "a gambling gimmick that disproportionately targets poor people."

As it turns out, Maryland taxpayers have more to fear from Gov. O'Malley's sleight of hand than they do from the dead hand of Maryland horse racing.


Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons

Montgomery County, Md.

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