- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

BOSTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, seeking resources to bridge a budget gap, was considering how to make money off gambling casinos by banning them, it was reported Tuesday.

Gov. John Rowland, meanwhile, has put off his budget speech for two weeks to give him more time to address Connecticut’s deficit.

The Boston Herald, citing unnamed sources in the Romney administration, reported Tuesday the state could net $80 million from gambling facilities in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire by banning gambling casinos in Massachusetts.

“A one-time payment to avoid competition in Massachusetts seems like something they’d be more than willing to do,” the source said, referring to the two casinos in Connecticut and the racetracks with slot machines in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Those facilities now make millions in profits from Massachusetts residents, a “very lucrative franchise that they’d like to protect,” the aide said.

Under the plan, no casinos would be allowed in Massachusetts in return for the so-called “blocking” payments, the Herald said.

Romney reportedly views the blocking approach favorably “because it gives us all the upside with none of the downside,” such as public safety and infrastructure costs, the aide said.

The plan would need legislative approval, but would not be binding on future governors.

Romney, who is faced with finding revenues to deal with a projected $3-billion deficit in the 2004 fiscal year, has not totally rejected proposals to authorize casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Pro-gambling advocates say the state could reap some $200 million a year from casino gambling.

A Romney administration review of the issue is expected by the end of April.

In Connecticut, there may be a break in the three-month standoff between Rowland and a coalition of state employee unions that have refused to agree to concessions and wage and benefit givebacks as he looks to overcome a $1.5-billion deficit in the coming fiscal year.

The Hartford Courant reported Tuesday that unionized professors at the University of Connecticut have agreed to give up a scheduled 5 percent pay raise and to a 1-year salary freeze to avoid layoffs.

The agreement would save $6.6 million in the next fiscal year.

The Courant said some lawmakers saw the tentative agreement as a first-step toward resolving the budget crisis, and they hoped it would pressure other unions to also agree to concessions.

The plan must still be approved by the Legislature, university trustees and members of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Legislative leaders agreed Monday to allow the governor to postpone his budget speech for two weeks until Feb. 27 to give him more time to attempt to fill the budget gap.

Rowland has already laid off nearly 3,000 state workers because the unions have not gone along with his giveback requests.

The unions have said that any agreement with the governor must include reinstating the laid-off workers.

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