Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes vetoed bills today that would have allowed the return of slot machines to eight Eastern Shore counties and steep-slope mining to Western Maryland.
The governor said signing the gambling bill, which would have allowed up to five slot machines in fraternal, religious or veterans' clubs on the Eastern Shore (except in Worcester County, where Ocean City is located), would be like allowing "the camel's nose under the tent."
While gambling is "unquestionably a component of modern life," Hughes said, "in excess it can become a compulsive disease with undesirable personal and societal results, including the potential for corruption."
He noted that Southern Maryland has developed "in a much more progressive way" since his vote as a legislator helped outlaw slot machines there in the 1960s.
"The allure of the instant payoff of the traditional one-armed bandit is legendary," Hughes said, but he noted that the "elimination of slot machine gambling in Southern Maryland in the long term resulted in . . . a sounder economic foundation." Hughes was among members of the legislature who voted to outlaw slot machines in that part of the state in the 1960s.
Also among the 90 bills he killed was one that would have reduced the rate of franchise tax imposed on Maryland savings and loan associations. In his veto message, Hughes noted that the state would lose more than $3 million in the next three years if the tax were reduced. He also said the state should not cut its revenue from the embattled thrift industry when government has just established a $100 million insurance pool to cover dozens of S&Ls.
Among the 300 bills Hughes signed today were one that prohibits the use of phosphate detergents and another that expands the public's right to know about the storage of hazardous chemicals.
Both of those proposals, along with the steep-slope strip-mining proposal, were objects of intense lobbying battles in the legislature. Hughes' decisions on them today could serve him well should he run for the Senate next year.
"Sure it will help him with those environmental groups that get involved in the race," said John Kabler, a spokesman for the Clean Water Action Project who has lobbied here for 10 years. "He's aware that you can't win a statewide election for vetoing a steep-slopes bill alone. But he could have slid this year after his Chesapeake Bay package last year. He didn't. He showed some courage."
Hughes had hinted during the legislative session that he might veto any move to rescind the 1975 ban on mining of hillsides steeper than 20 degrees. But such a bill passed anyway, clearing the House of Delegates and state Senate by lopsided margins.
The measure had the support of Western Maryland legislators and the Maryland Coal Association, who argued it was vital to the future of the slumping coal industry in Allegany and Garrett counties. Similar bans in other mining states have been rescinded. Supporters contended the bill contained enough safeguards to protect the environment, while allowing access to an estimated 38 million tons of coal -- a 25-year supply -- that lie beneath steep slopes.
A small but vocal group of Western Maryland residents disputed those claims and in recent months flooded Hughes' office with more than 2,000 pieces of mail in an effort to kill the measure.
At a news conference this afternoon, Hughes said he vetoed the steep-slope bill because he "did not feel comfortable with the risk" and because there were "still reserves on nonsteep slopes."
Also influencing his decision, Hughes added, was the fact that the state Department of Natural Resources, which regulates the coal industry, is not now "authorized to act quickly enough" against mine operators who violate environmental protection laws.
A dejected Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), who met for nearly an hour with Hughes on Monday to stave off a veto, said the governor "obviously doesn't have any confidence in his regulators."
"What he's saying is that the other 26 coal-producing states can regulate it, but we can't," Taylor said.
Hughes also vetoed legislation that would have relaxed state and local health department regulations on the installation of septic systems. He cited public health issues and the state's effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The governor also said the bill was fatally flawed because it exempted five counties, including Montgomery, where 46 percent of the state's population lives.
Another vetoed bill would have renamed a proposed new Rte. 50 bridge across the Choptank River in honor of Frederick C. Malkus Jr., a Dorchester County Democrat who has been a member of the state Senate for 34 years. Hughes said the new bridge should be named for former Gov. Emerson C. Harrington, in whose honor the present bridge was named.