- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday his optimism about the General Assembly finally passing a slot-machine bill follows talks with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and his growing sense of bipartisan support.

“I think people are recognizing the time has come,” said Mr. Miller, Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat. “The issue is very heavily supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, is a key player in slots negotiations, having helped defeat Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s bill the past two years in the House Ways and Means Committee.

However, Maryland lawmakers have persuaded Mr. Busch to allow a full House vote, House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat, told The Washington Times last week.

Mr. Barve also said the push for approving slots is coming from Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Busch was not available for comment but said earlier this week he is still opposed to slots.

Mr. Miller yesterday acknowledged talking with Mr. Busch, but said the discussions were informal and that lobbying the House “was not his job.”

Mr. Miller has been a steadfast supporter of Mr. Ehrlich’s plan, which calls for using slots revenue for education initiatives. The Senate is expected todayto pass the legislation again.

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing Wednesday on slots. However, Chairman Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat, said she had no knowledge of a deal.

“Maybe [Mr. Miller] has something going with somebody, but I don’t know who it is,” she said.

Delegate Justin D. Ross, Prince George’s Democrat, voted twice against the legislation in committee, but now expects it to reach the House floor.

“It seems unfortunately like the winds are shifting,” he said. “But there will be no slots in Prince George’s County.”

Mr. Ross is just one of several Prince George’s lawmakers still opposed to the legislation.

Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Democrat and leader of the county’s General Assembly delegation, said Prince George’s lawmakers will not vote in favor of slots.

“That is nonnegotiable,” she said.

Paul E. Schurick, a spokes-man for Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said the governor is not optimistic about his bill passing.

The administration and Senate bills call for putting slot machines at four horse-racing tracks and three off-track sites.

Under the Senate plan, a commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders would determine the locations. The Senate plan also calls for owners of slots facilities to take 36 percent of the profits, compared with 39 percent in the administration proposal. The plan also would require that $150 million in revenue be spent on public school construction each year for eight years.

The administration’s plan is almost identical to the one submitted last year: 15,500 machines at the seven sites that would generate about $800 million a year for education initiatives and revive the state’s horse-racing industry.

Mr. Ehrlich has tried to enhance the bill’s chances of passing by earmarking $100 million in revenue for school construction. The bill includes an additional $50 million for counties that spend more on education, such as Montgomery County, whose lawmakers have strongly opposed slots, especially in the House.

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