- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — House Speaker Michael E. Busch said yesterday he would block a special session on legalizing slot machines, one day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. rejected his call for a referendum on the issue.

“This doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency to have a special session on its own,” said Mr. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat. “The only reason to come in for a special session is to put a bill on a referendum for the [residents] in November. If you are not going to go to a referendum, [then] there is no immediate fiscal crisis that will rise to the level of calling the legislature back for a special session.”

Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich administration spokeswoman, said there needs to be a consensus among the Republican governor, the state Senate president and House speaker for Mr. Ehrlich to call the special session, and that Mr. Busch must decided whether legislators will meet in September.

“Unless there is agreement … a special session would be pointless,” Miss DeLeaver said.

The state constitution gives the governor authority to convene a special session under “extraordinary occasions.”

A special session would cost taxpayers $45,000 a day in expenditures, according to a study by the state’s Department of Legislative Services. Because there will be no agreement on the issue ahead of time, this session is likely to last a while.

Republican lawmakers yesterday also called upon Mr. Busch to call for the special session.

“We put out a call for an immediate special session,” said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican.

Delegate Christopher B. Shank said the 61-page bill, which would become a permanent part of Maryland’s 91-page constitution, was poorly drafted and would give too much control to the Maryland Stadium Authority and the state Comptroller’s Office.

“We feel that this bill is designed to fail,” said Mr. Shank, a Washington County Republican.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat, who long has supported slots, could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, Mr. Ehrlich rebuffed a plan by Mr. Busch, who had proposed amending the state constitution to permit slot machines and called for setting up gambling halls across the state at mostly government-owned sites.

He called for as many as 13,000 slot machines in the Frederick area, at Timonium, at Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County and at three state-owned sites — one along Interstate 70 in Frederick County, one along Interstate 95 near Aberdeen in Harford County and one along Route 50 on the Eastern Shore.

The plan was presented a little more than a week ago, which gave the administration too little time to review it for a November referendum, the governor said.

Mr. Ehrlich has proposed establishing as many as 15,500 slot machines at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County, a proposed track in Allegany County and two sites along I-95.

Mr. Busch has killed the governor’s slots bill in the House Ways and Means Committee for two straight years. During the last General Assembly session, he preferred more than $670 million in sales and income-tax increases.

Maryland gamblers spend $309 million a year in casinos in Delaware and West Virginia. The state also faces new competition from Pennsylvania, which will add 61,000 slots soon. Investors recently failed in their efforts to bring slots to the District, but have filed an appeal.

In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, special sessions were common and historically have served as rubber stamps for what the governor wanted to do. The most recent special sessions were held over budgetary matters in April 1992 and November 1992.

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