|Ehrlich Resurrects Slots
Debate for Schools |
By Mike Torralba
Capital News Service
Friday, Jan. 21, 2005
ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Robert Ehrlich pulled the
lever on his slot-machine initiative for the third time Friday but didn't
expect to win, even though he said Marylanders "demand it."
The proposal failed each of the previous two years, so Ehrlich said he
has "no unrealistic expectations" that the General Assembly would pass this
year's bill to bring video slot machines to Maryland.
Asked at a news conference how lawmakers can be pressured to pass his
slots bill, Ehrlich said: "The people -- it's the ultimate hammer."
"The clear majority view of the state is to allow" slots, Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich's slots initiative is nearly identical to the one he fought for
in the 2004 legislative session. New to the governor's initiative is $100
million of slots revenue to be earmarked specifically for school
construction. His proposed budget, released Wednesday, already calls for
$155 million for new school buildings.
The initiative was just one of more than a dozen the Republican governor
presented to the mostly-Democratic Legislature Friday. It was also the only
one not given to lawmakers to solicit their support.
However, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, has been
a strong supporter of slots. His counterpart in the House, Speaker Michael
Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has been the chief opponent to slot machines since
the question arose two years ago.
Miller said the money is badly needed to get schoolchildren out of
"If we were in trailers all day long, we would be passing bills" on
slots, Miller said.
Busch could not be reached for comment and did not return messages left
with his office. He has led the House in blocking previous slots
legislation, saying their revenues would not be a stable enough source for
A poll conducted for The Sun of Baltimore earlier this month showed
public support for slots in Maryland has increased since neighboring
Pennsylvania legalized them last year. The poll of 800 likely voters found
that 56 percent supported slots, up from 52 percent one year ago. The poll
had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent points.
But a poll conducted around the same time by Gonzales Research and
Marketing Strategies, an independent polling firm, showed support for slots
slipping to 49 percent, down from 55 percent in August. That poll had a
similar sampling and the same margin of error as the Baltimore Sun poll.
"They're tired, they're angry, they're frustrated, and they just want us
to deal with this issue," Ehrlich said of his constituents, without
referring to any particular poll.
Ehrlich said he has asked Miller to rally support for slots among the
Prince George's County delegation. It is one of the largest in the General
Assembly and is split between slots supporters and opponents, who say slots
would be a tax on the poor. Miller also represents part of Prince George's
Ehrlich's slots initiative also earmarks $50 million to assist school
districts with higher operating costs, part of the Thornton law to improve
Money would also go to local development grants for road improvements,
public safety and other needs in counties with slots. Additional funding
would go to funding more lucrative purses for Maryland's tracks and to horse
breeders and medical care for jockeys. The proposal also would devote some
funding to helping gambling addicts.
The measure would allow 11,500 video slot machines at horse racetracks in
Maryland and 4,000 at two non-racetrack venues.
A racetrack licensee would have to contract between 10 and 15 percent of
its slots investment to minority-owned business.
Here are the other initiatives Ehrlich released Friday:
• An overhaul in medical malpractice
laws that would be more far-reaching than the measure enacted by the
Legislature in the special session that immediately preceded the 2005
• A bill to strengthen the
government's ability to enforce regulations on the level of lead in
buildings. Its goal is to eliminate lead poisoning among children in
Maryland by 2010.
• A set of measures to improve
• A trio of bills to improve the
safety of young drivers, including one that would revoke for as many as
three years the license of a driver under the age of 21 who is convicted of
drunk or drugged driving.
• Homeland security and public
safety initiatives, including $12.5 million to improve fingerprint
• A bill to strengthen laws against
the intimidation of witnesses to crimes.
• An expansion of income-tax breaks
for military retirees.
• Tax breaks for business involved
in research and development of biotechnology and other advanced technology.
• Tax breaks for movie production
companies that shoot their films in Maryland. The governor points to Walt
Disney Co.'s film studio, which recently moved shooting of its movie titled
"Annapolis" to Pennsylvania.
• Capital bonds worth $2.4 million
for health centers in Allegany and Prince George's counties and Baltimore.
Capital News Service reporter Deitrich Curry contributed to this
Copyright © 2005
University of Maryland College of
Top of Page | Home Page