Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MoCo Delegation Speaks Out on Slots, Part Three

The Montgomery County Sentinel’s series on the MoCo delegation’s positions on slots concludes this week. Following are the positions of legislators from Districts 19, 20 and 39. The Sentinel did not report responses from Senators Mike Lenett (D-19) and Nancy King (D-39) and Delegates Hank Heller (D-19) and Kirill Reznik (D-39), but as we have seen, that does not necessarily mean that those legislators did not contact them. Of the legislators who are quoted in the Sentinel, Delegates Roger Manno (D-19), Sheila Hixson (D-20) and Tom Hucker (D-20) voted for the referendum and Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20) and Delegates Ben Kramer (D-19), Heather Mizeur (D-20), Charles Barkey (D-39) and Saqib Ali (D-39) voted against it.

Delegate Ben Kramer (Against):

Kramer voted against the referendum during the special session and said he has some difficulty understanding why many voted for the referendum last year and now claim they oppose it. “I question their rationale,” he said.

Kramer said he would like to see, as an alternative to slots, a repeal of a tax cut that was disapproved.
Editor’s Note: Can someone explain to us in the comments section what this alternative could be?

Delegate Roger Manno (Against):

Manno said he will vote against the slots referendum on the November ballot. “I do not believe that the slots proposal offers a stable or justifiable source of revenue, even if we assume the most generous slots revenue projections,” he said.

“As a legislator,” he continued, “my focus is to protect vulnerable populations, shore up critical infrastructure commitments, fulfill our contract with retirees who have paid into the system, and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.”

In lieu of revenue from the slots proposal, Manno said cuts and efficiencies in the range of $100 million to $200 million are “likely unavoidable. In addition, alternative revenues include cracking down on the misclassification of employees (yielding some $200 million annually in other states), and implementing combined reporting to capture revenue from corporate tax loopholes (yielding perhaps $100 million annually). If enacted, these measures would close the portion of the budget shortfall that slots revenue would assume.”
Senator Jamie Raskin (Against):

Raskin said he voted against the slots proposal in the Senate and intends to vote against it at the polls as well. “To me, it seems like a low road for the state to go down,” he said. “After so many home foreclosures, risking bankruptcies and staggering consumer debt, I cannot imagine that it’s a good idea to set up 15,000 slot machines in our state.”

He said if there was universal health care, universal accessibility and a stronger safety net, then the state could, perhaps, responsibly rely on people’s gambling losings to fund essential state services. “We don’t have a real social safety net,” he said. “Just a tight rope and it’s already shaky enough for a lot of people and kids right now. I don’t think the government should help push people off of it with the introduction of slot machines.”

Raskin said he believes there are people of good will on both sides of the issue. “Our economic problems, flowing downhill from the fiscal recklessness and out-of-control spending of the Bush Administration, are deep and will require sustained attention,” he said.

Alternatively, Raskin said he would like to see a tax on liquor and continued pruning of the state budget, including a repeal of the death penalty, which, according to the Senator, will save millions of dollars a year.
Delegate Sheila Hixon (For):

Hixson said that without slots, the budget would be very tight. “We have given the voters to choose,” she said. “If they want it, they will vote for it.”
Delegate Tom Hucker (Against):

“While there is no question that the state needs additional revenue,” Hucker said, “any significant revenue from slots won’t arrive until fiscal year 2012, too late to fix the budgets for next year or the following year.”

He said the revenue from slots is “overestimated” and will be “offset by millions of dollars that will be needed for increased bankruptcies, gambling addiction treatment, domestic violence and other crimes that typically increase in the states that legalize slots.”

Hucker said he has been an organizer and vocal advocate for a progressive state income tax for years and said he was proud to vote last year to finally make the income tax progressive. He said he also worked in 2003 and 2004 to close the Delaware corporate tax loophole, which dozens of large companies, according to him, were using to cheat Maryland out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We need to end our state tax breaks for yacht owners, gold bullion collectors and country clubs. And most important, we need to enact combined reporting to make sure multinational corporations pay taxes in Maryland just like the rest of us. Taking those steps would raise more than $500 million annually – enough to close our budget deficit next year, not years down the road.”
Editor’s Note: As we will see in an upcoming post, next year’s budget deficit is projected to be $1.3 billion. That’s a lotta gold bullion! Hey Tom – how many of those “gold bullion collectors” live in District 20?

Delegate Heather Mizeur (Against):

“Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation for a reason,” Mizeur said. “We invest in our people, in their skills and in our communities. Our state thrives on job creation fueled by creativity, research and new technologies.”

Mizeur said slots are “a regressive throwback to 19th Century thinking.” She said that the state should focus on science and technology and not slots to help balance the budget. “Instead of betting on slots, Maryland could expand its individual and corporate tax bases by promoting economic winners like nanotechnology, renewable energy or biotechnology,” she said. “Let’s bet on science, not slots.”
Delegate Saqib Ali (Against):

Ali said that slots are a tax on the poorest members of society. “I think the detrimental aspects of slots, like addiction, ruined finances and broken homes, outweigh the fiscal benefits.”

He said he is also concerned that the gambling companies will be unjustly enriched by the referendum.

Ali said he would like to see the same budget cuts the government has made in the past. “Additionally, I see no reason why alcohol taxes in Maryland shouldn’t be raised,” he said. “They have not been raised in more than a generation.”
Delegate Charles Barkley (Against):

“I am not a fan of gambling,” he said. “We shouldn’t base our revenue on slots because too many things come with it.”

Barkley said he is afraid, like many others, that the social problems that are attached to gambling such as crime, corruption and gambling addiction will burden the state.

“Cutting certain programs and spending could help turn around the budget crisis,” he said.