Monday, February 28, 2005

Key Democrats in the Maryland Senate say slot-machine gambling legislation is dead this year because House Speaker Michael E. Busch refuses to negotiate on how to use revenues generated by slots.

“I will suggest that … maybe we don’t pass this bill, and we come back maybe in ‘07 after the election and start this effort all over again,” Sen. Ulysses Currie told The Washington Times yesterday.

The Prince George’s County Democrat is chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which will oversee revisions of the Senate’s version of the slots bill.

“Personally, I think we might be better off without a bill,” said Mr. Currie, who voted for the legislation.

Mr. Currie expressed concern about the House bill’s earmarking all slots-generated revenues for school construction — a concern that was echoed by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer.

“I guess, in the final analysis, I understand where the House is coming from. However, at the same time, I don’t think it would be appropriate for the Senate to accept a piece of legislation … if we feel there are ways it could be improved,” said Mr. Kasemeyer, who managed the bill in the Senate’s floor debate.

“I think we can get around those things, but I don’t see us accepting it as it is,” the Baltimore County Democrat said.

After the House narrowly approved a slots bill on Friday, Mr. Busch of Anne Arundel County said the Senate and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would have to accept his chamber’s version of the bill or have no slots legislation this year. He said he would not appoint a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills.

The House plan would authorize 9,500 slot machines in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties and Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County — down from the 15,500 machines at seven venues sought by the Senate and the Republican governor.

The Senate’s version would designate $150 million from slots revenue to be spent on school construction each year for eight years. Mr. Ehrlich, who estimates that slots would generate up to $800 million a year in revenue, had earmarked $100 million for school construction.

Senate Majority Whip James E. De Grange Sr. yesterday criticized the House’s ultimatum, saying, “It’s almost as if they have put something together that is doomed to fail

“My personal feeling is that we will be coming back in ‘07 to start over again because of the makeup of the bill that was passed by the House,” said Mr. De Grange, Anne Arundel County Democrat, who supported the slots legislation.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and a longtime supporter of legalizing slots, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Mr. Busch has long opposed slots and helped kill the legislation in committee in the past two years.

Mr. Ehrlich has sought to use slots to revive the state’s horse-racing industry and to fund a billion-dollar education initiative.

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