- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

Opponents of Maryland‘s slot-machine referendum in November filed a lawsuit Thursday against its wording, while another prominent foe addressed the State Board of Elections, also pressing to include more details about how slots revenue will be used.

The lawsuit was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on Thursday by lawyer Irwin Kramer, whose clients say the measure obscures how the proceeds would be spent.

Mr. Kramer, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs including anti-slots groups Stop Slots Maryland and No Casino Maryland, said the referendum language submitted by Secretary of State John P. McDonough is an attempt to “manipulate the voters.”

Only about half the revenue would go toward the stated purpose of increased education spending, while the rest would go to racetracks, horse breeders and slots license owners, he said.

Mr. McDonough is a former lobbyist for Rosecroft Raceway, a Prince George’s County horse track.

The referendum he wrote states that slots revenue would be “for the purpose of raising revenue for education of children in public schools, pre-kindergarten through grade 12, public school construction and improvements, and construction of capital projects at community colleges and higher education institutions.”

“Voters are not being told at the ballot box that they’re voting on much more than meets the eye on the ballot,” Mr. Kramer said. “We need to be truthful in what we tell voters so that their vote truly reflects the popular will.”

The lawsuit asks Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to prohibit state elections officials from certifying the ballot language and to direct the secretary of state to revise the ballot question “with neutral language that fairly and accurately apprises voters of the true nature of the issue.”

Mr. Kramer also sought to invalidate last year’s special session, which resulted in $1.4 billion in tax increases and the slots referendum. Maryland’s highest court threw out the Republican-supported lawsuit in March.

Fred Puddester, chairman of the nonprofit group Maryland For Our Future, which favors the referendum, criticized the lawsuit as “frivolous and rehashed.”

His group stressed that the revenue provided for schools through the slots initiative is crucial to the state.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot Thursday released a report showing the state’s general fund revenues were $73.5 million below forecasts for fiscal 2008.

“Maryland´s citizens are smart - not ‘ill-informed’,” Mr. Puddester said. “They´re tired of this endless politicking. It´s time to let the people decide.”

If Maryland voters approve the referendum, a total of 15,000 slot machines could be put at five locations throughout the state.

About half of the proceeds would go toward education programs. Slot-machine operators would get about 33 percent, and another 7 percent would go to horse racing purses.

Mr. McDonough, a former slots lobbyist, said he wrote the wording for the referendum only after consulting with a former secretary of state and reviewing other sensitive ballot issues. His racetrack lobbying work has made him a target for anti-slots activists since Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, appointed him last month as secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Scott Arceneaux, senior adviser to the anti-slots group Marylanders United to Stop Slots, also requested on Thursday that the State Board of Elections adopt different ballot language.

He asked that the ballot wording spell out that the money would be used “for public education, the horse racing industry, and lottery operations, with the remainder going to the [operators].”

However, the board - which has until Sept. 10 to certify the language - contends it lacks the authority to change ballot language submitted by the secretary of state.

Mr. Arceneaux said the board “simply punted on the issue and didn’t really want to address it.”

“I do not accept an argument that they are merely rubber stamps,” he said. “Why do we have a board to begin with?”

The board’s stance also drew criticism from Mr. Franchot, who said its members failed to carry out their legal responsibility.

“Despite clear evidence that the ballot language submitted by the secretary of state´s office is misleading, the board rejected more balanced alternative language and simply threw up its hands and walked away from its obligation to ensure a fair election,” Mr. Franchot said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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