- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Democratic House leaders said yesterday that Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tried to deceive them by misrepresenting his revised slots bill, which would double earnings for casino owners at the expense of education funding.
They said Mr. Ehrlich's revised plan, which was presented Wednesday night, glossed over the fact that 28 percent of slots earnings would cover the operating costs of racetrack casinos before profits are divided among casino owners, education and other interests.
In the revised plan, track owners' share of total earnings jumped from 24.8 percent in the original bill to 43.59 percent, while revenue for education fell from 63.9 percent to 42.11 percent.
Greg H.N. Massoni, the governor's deputy communications director, said the administration fully explained the breakdown of the slots profits to General Assembly leaders and the media.
"How are we trying to hide anything if we put out a press release?" Mr. Massoni asked. "These are the same people who have been fighting against slots all along."
Under the new proposal, track owners would reap about $314 million annual profit and the Maryland Education Trust Fund would get $642 million a year, said nonpartisan legislative analysts.
"It appears as though the governor's staff intended to mislead people and that has hurt their credibility," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery County Democrat.
He said the episode sealed the slots bill's fate. "I think it's dead," Mr. Barve said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said General Assembly leaders were misled in a briefing by the Republican administration.
"I certainly left there with a misunderstanding," said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.
Mr. Busch, the chief opponent of the governor's slots bill, said the new plan still would give Maryland more than 42 percent of slots revenue, which is more than Delaware's 35 percent and West Virginia's 34 percent.
"Why would you eschew the numbers?" he asked. "Everything should have been straightforward."
Mr. Busch said he would start lining up votes to pass a bill that would delay the slots measure for one year for study.
"The House has to act," he said. "We are going to send the study bill to the Senate and an alternative revenue and tax bill."
The Ehrlich administration expects the slots bill to pass with limited opposition in the Senate, where Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has been the governor's best ally on slots. The administration also expects to win in the House, where they believe delegates will choose slots over the deep cuts that would be required otherwise.
The slots plan's reduced licensing fees would leave a $230 million hole in the governor's budget, but the administration remains confident that lawmakers will opt for slots. Administration officials said they plan to work with lawmakers to find additional budget cuts to fill the $230 million deficit.
"This is still the best deal for education in the entire country where slots are involved," Mr. Massoni said. "And unless [lawmakers] want to cut $1.8 billion from the budget, slots are the only real option."
House Majority Whip George W. Owings III said he was satisfied with the amount of education funding provided in the new proposal. A longtime slots proponent, he said his only reservation had been that education funding remain at 60 percent of the net profit.
Mr. Owings, a Calvert Democrat who has broken rank with his party in the past, said it is reasonable to take care of operating costs before sharing profits.
He said he was ready to do his job and count votes for the speaker, but he would stand by his position on slots.
"Right now, if I was a betting man, I'd go with about a 60-40" chance that slots legislation will pass both chambers, Mr. Owings said.
The new proposal would divided slots proceeds as follows:
28 percent to operation costs, including the 5 percent for the state's cost of monitoring the 10,500 slots machines to be installed at Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft racetracks.
42.11 percent to the Maryland Education Trust Fund.
20.59 percent to the track owners.
3.61 percent to local governments hosting the tracks.
3.41 percent to horse-race purse funds.
1.31 percent to the Maryland Bred Race Fund.
0.36 percent to Timonium Fair Grounds and the Maryland Agricultural Society.
0.33 percent to the Maryland Standardbred Race Fund.
0.14 to Ocean Downs racetrack.
0.07 percent to Maryland Education Accountability Fund, to provide technical assistance to school districts for using new school funding.
0.07 percent to compulsive-gambling services.

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