- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he would not bully Republicans to back legalized slot-machine gambling because he already had lined up enough votes from both parties in the General Assembly.
"I think we do have the votes," Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times. "Our count is a majority for slots in both parties in both chambers."
Mr. Ehrlich said slot-machine revenue, perhaps $400 million the first year and eventually as much as $800 million annually, would help close the $1.6 billion budget shortfall he faces in the next 18 months. He said it will enable him to keep his campaign promise to balance the budget without layoffs of state workers.
"It's not a threat. It's just a fact," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Without those dollars, there will be increasing pressure on the various parts of the budget."
His plan to legalize slots at four horse tracks also would save the state's foundering horse-racing industry and stem the flow of Maryland dollars into slot machines at horse tracks in Delaware and West Virginia, he said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who is seen as the most prominent obstacle to passing a slots bill in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has repeatedly called on Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, to deliver 100 percent of the Republican votes in support of slots before he considers corralling Democratic support.
Mr. Busch told The Times yesterday that Mr. Ehrlich had made slots a budget issue, and the budget is the driving force behind a governor's policy agenda. It should automatically garner Republican support, he said.
"This can't be balanced on the backs of Democrats," Mr. Busch, Annapolis Democrat, said of the slots vote. "This is the governor's proposal, and he needs his party to back him."
Mr. Ehrlich said he respected the views of slots opponents, such as Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican. Maryland nevertheless had crossed the line to legalized gambling years ago with a state-run lottery, he said.
"I never made this a litmus test for support," Mr. Ehrlich said, adding that he campaigned alongside Republican candidates who opposed slots.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is expected to push the slots bill through the Senate. He has supported legalizing slot machines for years, but the issue never advanced because of the opposition of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. It remains uncertain what Mr. Miller might want in return for helping pass slots now that he is negotiating with the state's first Republican governor in 34 years.
"It is fair of Mike Busch to expect a Republican governor to deliver a majority of Republican votes," Mr. Ehrlich said. "It is also fair for me to expect some Democratic leaders, particularly in respect to leaders like President Miller to deliver a fair amount of Democratic votes for something they campaigned on and they believe in as well."


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