- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The union representing the state’s teachers announced yesterday that it had voted to support passage of a November referendum on legalizing slot machines.

“The referendum establishes an Education Trust Fund and dedicates half of future proceeds to our public schools. It provides Maryland with an additional source of funding, beginning with licensing fees in early 2009,” Maryland State Teachers Association President Clara Floyd said in a statement.

“Because of our state’s precarious fiscal outlook, if this referendum fails, students, teachers and support staff will be left with outdated facilities, larger classes, outdated textbooks and shortages of materials. School systems will be left with fewer resources to recruit and retain the best teachers and support staff,” Miss Floyd said.

The union represents about 67,000 teachers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, warned union officials that education spending could be at risk if voters reject the slots referendum, which would amend the state’s constitution to place up to 15,000 machines in five locations across the state.

“You guys have got to step up,” Mr. Miller told the state teachers union Friday on the Senate floor. “You’re the largest beneficiary of everything in this budget, and we need these revenues to pay for everything we’re doing in terms of public education.

“We love you, but we’ve got to pay the bill, and if we can’t pay the bill, we’re going to have to shift some of the cost to the counties.”

Support from the Maryland State Teachers Association, one of the state’s largest unions, is widely considered to be crucial to passing a slots ballot initiative in November. Lawmakers have tied legalized slots to education funding, even naming the bill that sets the location and number of slot machines “The Maryland Education Trust Fund — Video Lottery Terminals.”

State lawmakers are counting on the slots referendum to generate $650 million to help close a long-term budget shortfall and fund hundreds of millions of dollars in increased education spending.

Comptroller Peter Franchot and members of StopSlotsMaryland have been campaigning against the slots measure since lawmakers approved the referendum plan during a special General Assembly session in November.

The constitutional amendment, proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, still must be approved by a majority of voters in November.

In his 2002 successful campaign for governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said he would legalize “slots for tots” — a plan to fund landmark education spending with more than 10,000 slot machines at racetracks across the state.

Mr. Ehrlich’s slots plans were defeated in the House of Delegates.

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