MARYLAND HOUSE SPEAKER Michael E. Busch and his allies thus far have stood their ground valiantly against Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who want a deal -- any deal, it seems -- to bring gambling to Maryland. The speaker recognizes that the frenzied final-days overtures of the slot-machine pushers, billed as "compromise" offers, are dangerously vague and fiscally irrelevant to the current budget deficit. Today members of the House Ways and Means Committee can perform a public service by voting to kill any slots proposal dumped on the table. Leadership in this instance is to say no; let the governor do his homework on the full ramifications of gambling and present a more serious proposal next year.
What is "the slots bill" at this point, anyway? Is it gambling run by and for racetrack owners teamed with out-of-state operators? A casino for National Harbor in Prince George's County and other scattered sites in Maryland? A trashing of local zoning protections? A neighborhood wrecker? A trading chip for a tax increase that Gov. Ehrlich has "flatly" opposed but now might offer not to veto if it's approved by the legislature along with slots language? It is a monster in the making.
Gov. Ehrlich has signed an executive order authorizing up to a 10-day extension of the legislative session if the slots stalemate is unresolved by the end of regulation time Monday. But because any legalization of slots would have no more than a negligible effect on the budget at hand, keeping the legislature in session to squeeze out a slots bill would be irresponsible as well as wasteful. Though some taxes will have to be raised this year to close the deficit, as required by law, the governor has opposed any major changes in tax law until next year, so that he and the legislature can take a thorough look at the state's financial picture and overall tax structure. The same prudent logic ought to apply to the legalization of slot machines. Plunging pell-mell into a gambling revolution in Maryland is reckless. The House has passed a bill that would create a commission to take a good look at the possible impact of major gambling. That's the correct first step.