Gov. Harry Hughes promised today to again veto a bill that would allow charitable organizations in eight Eastern Shore counties to raise money through the use of slot machines.
Hughes' comments came after he joined House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) and Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) in a traditional session-ending ceremony here and signed nearly 100 bills. They also reflected on the gains made during the 90-day legislative meeting.
Hughes has remained opposed to gambling in the state and has said that the return of slot machines to the Eastern Shore would be allowing "the camel's nose under the tent."
"It would be my intention to veto it since it's the same bill, for the same reason as I vetoed it last year," Hughes said today. "And frankly, I don't think that's going to come as any surprise to any member of the legislature. I think that . . . I wouldn't be surprised if some didn't vote for it in the anticipation that it . . . would be vetoed. So I intend to do so."
Hughes, who is expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate soon, added that he does not believe that his veto coupled with Eastern Shore political opposition to aspects of the Chesapeake Critical Areas regulations he championed will harm him on the other side of the Bay Bridge.
"The vast majority of the people on the Eastern Shore do not want that door [to slot machine use] opened again," said Hughes, who is an Eastern Shore native. "My mail would reflect that from last year, so I feel very comfortable that I am still in good graces on the Eastern Shore and have a lot of friends there."
Hughes' comments were the only discordant tone struck in a joint news conference held after the bill signing. Steinberg and Cardin spoke of the session's accomplishments rather than the acrimonious House-Senate conflicts that dominated its final days.
"I never anticipated such a successful session," said Steinberg, noting problems from the state's savings and loan crisis. "And I think having the enhancements that we had in this budget . . . without a tax increase was certainly an outstanding feat."
Cardin, who was frustrated during the final days of his last session in the House by Steinberg's adamant refusal to consider any version of an ambitious education aid package he had proposed, today downplayed the House-Senate differences.
"I don't think people thought we would be able to handle -- with the savings and loan crisis -- some very . . . controversial issues in an election year, such as [insurance] tort changes and housing initiatives," Cardin said. "Yet we handled each of these issues and we handled them successfully. Quite frankly, the reason we were able to do that was because . . . we respect each other's independence."
Hughes also said that savings and loans regulations approved by the General Assembly will be a positive legacy left to future administrations as a way of making sure that another industry collapse cannot occur.
His administration, he said, "will not be leaving any fiscal obligation as a result of the savings and loan" crisis. But, he added, "it's close, it's close."