- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ANNAPOLISGov. Martin O’Malley yesterday warned that if his plan to legalize slot machines is rejected, he will not cut property taxes, freeze college tuition, increase spending on school construction or expand health care coverage.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is proposing using revenue from slots and tax increases to close the state’s estimated $1.5 billion budget shortfall and fund additional state spending. However, he first must persuade members of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to put his slots proposal on the November 2008 ballot so Maryland voters can decide.

“Because of the necessity of sending slots to referendum to forge that consensus, we needed to adjust some of the startups and some of the enhancements within this plan to accommodate for its success or its failure,” he said. “I think it will succeed.”

However, Democrats and Republicans who returned to Annapolis on Monday for a special assembly session to resolve the budget issue were apprehensive of his new strategy.

“I think holding things hostage is not necessarily a good plan,” said Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, said, “I wish he would stop threatening people. It’s very unbecoming of him.”

Mr. O’Malley proposed the property-tax cut as one of several relief measures to soften the impact of his package of tax increases. The property-tax cut would return to voters an estimated $177 million once it is phased in completely.

The cut would have taken effect in fiscal 2009, but now it’s being delayed until 2010 and won’t go into effect at all if a referendum on slot-machine gambling fails.

The O’Malley administration also would scrap devoting 50 percent of corporate income tax revenue as a steady source of money for higher education, if slots are not approved.

And Mr. O’Malley would limit his plans to expand health care coverage to 100,000 of 800,000 uninsured Maryland residents.

His proposal to help small businesses provide coverage to employees and covering families to 116 percent of the federal poverty level would go forward. But expanding the proposal to cover all adults to 116 percent of the federal poverty level would not proceed without slots.

Hundreds of millions of dollars for school construction also would never materialize.

House and Senate Republicans have broadly opposed the governor’s slots plan, pushing the focus to the remaining Democrats.

Mr. O’Malley needs 60 percent of the vote in each chamber — 29 of 47 senators and 85 of 141 delegates to succeed. And the Senate will likely be the toughest chamber in which to find votes.

Legalizing slot machines has been called the “political price” necessary to move taxes through the Senate.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said Monday that the governor needed to do more work to find 29 senators to approve the plan.

“I don’t like the referendum, never have been for referendums,” Mr. Miller said this week. “But if that’s what it takes to get a bill through the House of Delegates, and the governor and speaker are on board and committed to passing a bill and putting it before the public, then I’m for it.”

Mr. O’Malley would like to put as many as 15,000 slot machines in up to five locations: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Cecil County, Western Maryland and Worcester County.

He hopes to raise as much as $700 million for the state within four to five years and funnel up to $100 million annually to the horse-racing industry.

Mr. O’Malley riled many lawmakers — including many of the Democrats he must court — late Friday when he introduced his plan, which could put slots in Baltimore City.

“I don’t see the need for the session, the need for slots, the need for taxes, the need for cutting education,” Delegate Curtis S. Anderson said Monday on WBAL-AM. “They told me I’m coming down here to raise taxes, cut education and vote for slots. I don’t want to do any of that.”

Mr. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the city delegation in the House, has strongly opposed slot machines.

Lawmakers received the governor coolly when he addressed them at the start of the special session Monday night, applauding only once, politely, at the end of his speech.

The session could last up to 30 days and as short as two weeks — drawing many legislators from the other jobs they work while not in Annapolis.

Lawmakers began hearings on the governor’s plan to cut education funding yesterday and heard from budget analysts who said they estimated that the shortfall is now $1.5 billion.

The governor’s top aides also presented lawmakers with a budget filled with $1.7 billion in budget cuts that they said would be necessary if lawmakers do not approve his taxes and gambling initiative.

The article is based in part on wire service reports.

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