- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has turned to the Internet to rally support for his bill that would authorize 10,500 slot machines at Maryland racetracks.
The governor's political campaign sent e-mails to about 10,000 people last week asking them to let their legislators know they would rather legalize slot-machine gambling than increase taxes to help balance the budget and increase aid to public schools.
Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the e-mail is an attempt to whip up the same kind of grass-roots support that helped Mr. Ehrlich defeat former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
"It's letting Ehrlich supporters know that they are not forgotten and their support is still very much needed in this administration," Miss DeLeaver said.
The e-mail was sent out by Mr. Ehrlich's campaign committee, not the state-financed governor's office. It urges Ehrlich supporters to support the slot-machine legislation and oppose a "fresh round of tax increases" proposed by some slots opponents.
Top Democratic leaders said they do not object to the Internet campaign, which appears to be a first for a Maryland governor.
"I don't have a problem with it," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's County Democrat. "Bill Clinton did the same thing when he was governor of Arkansas."
"It's an old technique. It's new to Maryland," Mr. Miller said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, also said does not object to the e-mail campaign.
Mr. Ehrlich is counting on $395 million from slot-machine revenues and licensing fees to help balance next year's budget and as much as $800 million in revenues in future years to pay for an increase in school aid.
The issue has cut across party lines in the legislature, with some Democrats and Republicans supporting Mr. Ehrlich and some opposing his attempt to expand legalized gambling.
The tone of the e-mail is mild by current political standards. Mr. Miller, a supporter of slot machines, noted that it does not mention Democrats.
It does refer to four of the many ideas that have been tossed out this year to raise money, including a plan to increase the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, an income-tax surcharge on affluent taxpayers and expanding the sales tax to some services not covered, including car repairs, hair salons and dry cleaning.
But with the legislative session half over, Mr. Ehrlich, and House and Senate leaders are not close to agreement on the mix of spending cuts, revenue increases and gambling revenues that would be needed to balance next year's budget.


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