O'Malley Summons Special Session

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is receptive to a referendum on slot machines.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is receptive to a referendum on slot machines. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday ordered the Maryland General Assembly into a special session starting Oct. 29 to consider his proposals to resolve a $1.7 billion budget shortfall by raising several taxes and legalizing slot-machine gambling.

"The time for delay has passed," O'Malley said at a news conference at which he acknowledged he is still working to ensure passage of his proposals. "We have the ability to come together, and we have the ability to forge a consensus."

O'Malley's proposals include overhauling the state's income tax so that upper-end earners would pay more but most taxpayers would get a modest break; gradually reducing the property tax; and raising sales, tobacco, corporate and vehicle titling taxes.

But the governor's toughest sell, it appeared yesterday, will be his plan to generate $550 million for the state from the legalization of slot-machine gambling at racetracks and other locations -- an issue that has paralyzed the legislature in previous years.

O'Malley signaled last week that he was open to putting his slots plan to a public vote if that would make passage more likely in the House of Delegates.

"I'm inclined that way," O'Malley said yesterday, suggesting a referendum might be the only way "to put to rest the thorny issue of slots. . . . I think there's a lot of support for letting the people decide."

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) again expressed opposition to a referendum yesterday, saying O'Malley is well short of securing the necessary votes in the Senate.

"I counseled him not to call a special session until he has the votes, but he's determined to go forward anyway," Miller, a leading slots proponent, told reporters.

Putting slots on the ballot -- most likely in November 2008 -- would give opponents a year to mobilize, Miller said. And gambling interests in West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, where slots are already legal, would likely be among those pouring money into efforts to oppose slots in Maryland, he said.

O'Malley "threw his plan under the bus by agreeing to a referendum before we even started," Miller said.

O'Malley has said he will propose slots legislation "very similar" to a failed 2005 plan that sought to legalize 9,500 machines at tracks and other locations in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties.

Until last week, Miller had been an outspoken supporter of a special session, an idea that House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has resisted. Republican leaders in both chambers have said they believe convening before the start of the legislature's annual 90-day session in January is a mistake.

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