Thursday, October 16, 2008

MoCo Delegation Speaks Out on Slots, Part One

The Montgomery County Sentinel is running a series in which they ask all of Montgomery County's delegation about their positions on the slots referendum. This week, they post responses from Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), Delegate Karen Montgomery (D-14), Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-15) and Delegate Craig Rice (D-15). Senator Kramer and Delegates Dumais and Rice voted for the referendum, while Delegate Montgomery was "excused from voting." Concerning the other legislators, the Sentinel writes, "Though the Montgomery Sentinel tried repeatedly to get in contact with [Politician X], by press time he/she still had not returned our phone calls." Doesn't that sound like something a collections agency might say?

Here are the statements released by the above four legislators to the Sentinel:

Senator Rona Kramer (For):

Kramer said she is reluctant to vote for the referendum but does not see any other alternative to help fix the $1 billion budget gap the state is facing. "It is not the best way to go," she said. "I do not want to see it in the constitution but it seems to be the only compromise available at this time."

Kramer does not see where the revenue could come from without slot machines. "If we don't have slots, then the state will have to cut other services that are already provided."
Editor's Note: In an April blog post, we revealed that even if the slots referendum passes, it will not provide extra money right away. State budget projections find that slots revenues will total nearly $500 million in fiscal 2012 and $660 million in 2013.

Delegate Karen Montgomery (Against):

Montgomery said she believes slots will cause more harm than good and she raises the question of liquor tax. "How is it that Maryland has the lowest liquor tax in the country?" she asked. She said that Maryland does not put a tax on liquor like it does with tobacco and does not understand why that is.

According to the Comptroller of Maryland's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, the Maryland tax on distilled spirits is $1.50 per gallon compared to Delaware's $4.85 per gallon. Montgomery wants to look to other alternatives to slots to help mend the financial crisis.

"I like Montgomery County Public Schools' idea of freezing raises as an alternative," she said.
Editor's Note: Delegate Montgomery was endorsed by MCEA in 2006. Are Bonnie Cullison, Tom Israel and Jon Gerson reading this?

Delegate Kathleen Dumais (Against):

Dumais did vote in the special session last year to put the referendum on November's ballot and says it was one of the most difficult decisions she has had to make. "I don't have the magic answer, but I do think we need to take a harder look at taxes," she said. She said her biggest concern is that she has not seen documentation stating that most of the revenue will go to education and that makes her think the state's education system will not get what is promised.

Like Montgomery County Council Vice President Phil Andrews, Dumais said she is afraid that money that would otherwise go to small businesses would be diverted to slots if passed. "Local businesses will feel the negative effects," she said. "I think it's a disaster."
Delegate Craig Rice (Decided):

Rice declined to disclose whether he is for or against the slot referendum. "My decision stays with me until I close the curtain in November," he said.

Rice did say he is not a fan of slots and he said if Maryland turns to them "we should look into expanding to casinos and higher gaming and bring in table games along with slot machines."

As for alternatives to slots, Rice says budget cuts need to go deeper. "We have made quite enough tax increases, and teacher salaries need to be protected," he said.
Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? "My decision stays with me until I close the curtain in November." I have never met a politician who enjoys such a response when seeking votes on the campaign trail. The reaction of constituents upon hearing such a thing from their elected leaders is not much happier.

Next week, the Sentinel will print the responses of legislators from Districts 16, 17 and 18, with responses from Districts 19, 20 and 39 due the week after that. We will be reprinting them here. District 18 representatives, if you are reading this (and I know you are), I very much hope that you will not give an "answer" similar to the one provided by Delegate Rice!