proposed new state lottery that is supposed to cure Prince George's County's financial woes became the object of frenzied political horsetrading and bickering today, as county senators tried to ensure the governor's support by holding up his proposed labor department.
The county legislators, eager to keep their Baltimore City supporters in line, also let it be known that if the fiscal package of which the lottery is a part does not make it through the House, they will try to hold up in a Senate committee a $15 million bond bill to renovate Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
At the same time, Baltimore County Sen. John C. Coolahan, who called the new lottery measure a bail-out for Prince George's and Baltimore City at the expense of other areas, said he will filibuster the bill or push for a new prison in southern Prince George's unless the county legislators rewrite or kill the measure.
"If he does that, I'd punch him out," responded Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, who represents southern Prince George's, "I'd hit him. There'd be violence on the floor of the Senate."
With only two weeks left in the session, said Montgomery County lobbyist Blair Lee IV, "It's that time of year when everyone starts getting freaky."
The focus of all the attention is the so-called Lotto bill, which would set up a weekly, six-digit lottery.
The $40 million in expected proceeds from the game would be distributed to the subdivisions in direct proportion to the number of tickets sold in all state lotteries in each area.
The formula for distribution would guarantee Prince George's, where most lottery tickets are now sold, $13.5 million in state aid, nearly half of what it needs to plug a $33 million budget gap this year and avoid layoffs. It would also give Baltimore City, with ongoing financial problems, $12.5 million.
But Baltimore and Montgomery counties would get much less under the formula. In addition, legislators from those areas are concerned that a new lottery, with funds going directly to the local governments, would end up hurting other lottery revenues that now go directly into state coffers to fund state programs.
This morning, Miller quickly moved to have legislation on the new labor department that is pending in the Senate held up until at least Monday. At the same time Prince George's Sens. Frank Komenda and Leo Green went to see Hughes.
Komenda said Hughes indicated he would support the bill provided it had a one-year sunset on it. Komenda said that when the governor asked about support for his new department, he told him that if Hughes supported the lottery all seven Prince Georgians would vote for the labor department.
While this was occurring, a House committee was approving another element of the Prince George's financial bail-out plan: a new tax on business property that would raise $10 million and fall most heavily on utility firms. But that approval came only after Baltimore City was persuaded to back off on several amendments that would have gutted the bill.
"I told them we wanted to keep both bills lotto and the property tax moving together," said Komenda, of a meeting with some Baltimore legislators.
Coolahan said today, "The city will climb in bed with anybody and Prince George's County has always been a willing paramour."
To persuade the Prince Georgians to modify the lottery bill, he said, he will try to amend into the budget a new prison site in Cheltenham. And if that does not work, he said, "The possibility of a filibuster always exists."