- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

The League of Women Voters of Maryland, a longtime opponent of legalized slots in the state, claimed Friday that only 6 cents of every dollar that gamblers drop into the machines will go toward the stated purpose of education.

Also Friday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat and one of the state’s staunchest slots supporters, slammed Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat and ardent slots opponent, for his “Monday morning quarterbacking” in the state’s budget debates.

The league, which typically focuses on voter education but occasionally engages in advocacy, officially joined the opposition to a controversial referendum planned for November’s ballot. A three-judge panel on Wednesday ordered a change in the referendum’s wording, ruling that the existing language was “misleading” about how much revenue would go to fund education.

Referendum opponents quickly said the decision didn’t go far enough and filed suit Thursday for more substantial revisions. The opposing sides filed legal briefs Friday and Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will hear arguments Monday.

The three-judge panel ordered the insertion of the word “primary” in the referendum, so the relevant passage would state that slots would be used “for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.”

In a Friday conference call with reporters, the league backed the view that the one-word change was insufficient.

“To say that the primary purpose of the proposed video lottery terminals is raising revenue for specified educational purposes is untrue,” league President Lu Pierson said.

Slots supporters with the ballot group For Maryland For Our Future boast a wide array of support from groups, including the Maryland AFL-CIO, the Maryland Association of Counties, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

“The slots referendum is bringing people from across Maryland together because they know it’s the best way to raise the money we need for our schools without raising taxes or cutting the funding for our schools,” wrote Fred Puddester, chairman of the pro-slots group, in an e-mail to supporters Friday.

Both supporters and opponents have yet to disclose how much money they’ve raised or spent, although a job posting on Craig’s List from the “For Maryland For Our Future Campaign” sought canvassers and supervisors for up to $530 a week.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is counting on voters to approve the slot machines to bring in up to $660 million to the state’s coffers by 2013.

Mr. Miller sharply rebuked Mr. Franchot, the comptroller, who has been critical of Mr. O’Malley’s fiscal management.

“Regrettably, as you stumble through your second year in the Comptroller’s Office, it is evident you do not understand that what got you into statewide office will not ensure success as a statewide official,” Mr. Miller wrote in a letter Wednesday to Mr. Franchot. “Rather than growing into your role, you are clinging to the worst habits of a novice elected official - preening for the press, repackaging old ideas and calling them new, expanding your budget while criticizing others for bloat in theirs, offering policy alternatives one day that are incongruous with your positions from the day before, and criticizing others for leading while offering nothing to the debate.”

Mr. Franchot issued a pointed rebuttal Friday, pulling few punches against the long-time leader of the Maryland Senate.

“In light of your correspondence, in which you questioned my motives, credibility, integrity, seriousness and effectiveness as a public servant, I’ll confess that I was tempted to respond in kind,” Mr. Franchot wrote. “I was tempted to compare my 22-year record of public service with yours as Senate president, one in which your formidable legislative prowess has often been overshadowed by intemperate public remarks, acrimonious personal feuds, unconditional fealty to the interests of the national gambling industry, and stories of brass-knuckle political tactics that would cause the hardest-bitten of Tammany Hall ward-heelers to blush. However, in the interest of restoring civility and purpose to the public debate, I won’t go there.”

The rift between the two Democrats has grown into one of Maryland’s great political battles.

Earlier this year Mr. Franchot said his office was being “pistol whipped” by Mr. Miller with budget cuts targeted at two of his top advisers, Democrats with deep roots in state politics and years of campaign experience.

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