Johnson Rejects Slots-Schools Link

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who has long opposed bringing slot-machine gambling to Prince George's, said yesterday for the first time that he will vote against the November ballot measure to legalize slots.

Johnson said the state should fund public schools through more "traditional" ways of raising revenue. Legalizing slots, he said, would shift the responsibility of education funding "disproportionately to the poor, who will be using the machines for hope when they are already down in the dumps."

"Maryland is one of the richest states in the country, and we have the resources," he said after a groundbreaking ceremony for Casa de Maryland's multicultural center in Langley Park.

Johnson's position on the statewide measure puts him at odds with Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who represents Prince George's. Both support slots as a way to raise revenue for education.

But many influential church leaders in Prince George's oppose slots, and the County Democratic Central Committee and Prince George's Education Association have declined to take a position.

In the last year, O'Malley and lawmakers have increased taxes and are facing a projected budget shortfall of $1 billion. State analysts estimate that slots could bring in more than $600 million a year in state revenue for education within a few years.

A Washington Post poll conducted this month found that 62 percent of likely voters support the ballot measure, and 36 percent said they plan to vote against it. Support for slots was highest in Baltimore, at 75 percent. That figure was 58 percent in both Prince George's and Anne Arundel, and 54 percent in Montgomery.

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