- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If Marylanders want slots, they should have slots. However, we do not support the devious manner in which the issue is being politicized.

Presently, the debate is focused on whether slots can 1) save the Maryland horse-racing industry or 2) whether they are compatible with efforts to have a “family friendly” atmosphere in locations like Ocean City. As important as these matters are, there’s a critical issue that has gone largely ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike: The Maryland Democratic establishment has created a massive fiscal time-bomb for the taxpayers, and slots are unlikely to produce the revenues necessary to pay for all of the irresponsible spending schemes.

Earlier this year, Moody’s credit rating agency expressed concern that Maryland officials were too reliant on slots to raise revenue. Moody’s noted that between 2009 and 2013, slots were supposed to keep the state budget in balance - yielding annual projected revenues of $453 million to $604 million. Moody’s termed the projections “overly optimistic.” Also, Maryland budget analysts said that flat revenues could cost the state $200 million this fiscal year - a budget gap that has yet to be closed.

But none of these budget realities has intruded on the O’Malley administration’s spending plans. Last year, for example, the legislature approved O’Malley-Care to expand Medicaid coverage for an additional 100,000 recipients. According to the nonpartisan Maryland Department of Legislative Services, O’Malley-Care would cost $185 million in fiscal 2009 and soar to $800 million by 2013. (As this editorial page was the first to point out, beneficiaries of O’Malley-Care include thousands of households headed by illegal aliens.) But even these figures dramatically understate the cost of the spending plans. In May, the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council began hearings on providing health care to an estimated 800,000 uninsured Marylanders - nearly eight times the number of people who would be covered by O’Malley-Care. That’s why the Democratic establishment is so desperate to have the slot-machine referendum pass.

The political machine realizes full well that even in a reliably liberal state like Maryland, voters would balk at being forced to pay dramatically higher taxes for new spending. So, the Democrats are counting on slot-machine revenues to fill the gap - going so far as to lecture teacher’s unions about the dire fiscal consequences if the slots referendum fails. The plan seems to be working: According to a recent poll, 63 percent of voters favor the referendum. That’s partly because many of these voters are probably unaware of the establishment’s dirty little secret: Slot revenues won’t come close to funding the planned spending binge.

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