Franchot Ratchets Up Criticism Of Slots

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

Comptroller Peter Franchot yesterday stepped up his campaign to derail the legalization of slot-machine gambling in Maryland, a key component of Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to bridge a $1.7 billion budget shortfall.

Franchot (D), a former delegate from Montgomery County, used a pair of appearances in Silver Spring and Baltimore to urge his former colleagues in the General Assembly to reject O'Malley's proposal to generate up to $550 million a year for the state from slots.

"We can solve the deficit without slots," Franchot said. "Slots are a political solution to a fiscal issue."

Although Franchot's position is hardly new, his outspoken opposition comes as O'Malley, a fellow Democrat, is struggling to build support for slots before a special session that he has said he would like to convene by early next month.

Senate Republicans announced this week that they would provide no votes for slots in a special session -- making the odds of passage longer in the legislative chamber that has been more receptive to gambling initiatives.

"This is a difference on an issue, not whether I like him or I support him," Franchot, one of four Maryland officeholders elected statewide, said of O'Malley. "On both, I do."

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said the governor had presented "a fair, long-term solution to the $1.7 billion budget deficit we've inherited."

"We would welcome any constructive ideas from the comptroller on how to close this hole, which grows to $2.2 billion without a special session," Kearney said. "Maybe some ideas about collecting unpaid taxes, which is, after all, his job."

Franchot, who has counseled against holding a special session, offered no suggestions yesterday on how he would make up revenue not realized by slots. Franchot said his office is willing to consult with the governor and lawmakers on other ideas, saying that "very smart people are at work on this."

O'Malley's plan has proposed overhauling the state's income tax brackets, cutting the property tax and raising several other levies, including the sales tax, tobacco tax and titling tax on vehicles. O'Malley has also proposed slowing the growth of planned education spending.

If O'Malley does not call a special session this fall, lawmakers will weigh his proposals during their annual 90-day session that starts in mid-January.

Neither downtown Silver Spring nor Baltimore's Inner Harbor is actively being considered as a slots venue, but Franchot said he chose the locations, both of which have been revitalized in recent decades, to make a point.

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