Marylanders would see their income taxes cut only if slot machines were legalized at state racetracks under a high-stakes political package being considered by legislative leaders.
The proposal would link the fates of two major issues and set up a possible showdown with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who backs a tax cut but has vowed to veto any gambling legislation.
"Right now, it's a bona fide idea that's developing a lot of support," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is floating the proposal in Annapolis. "It would be good sense, or at least good political sense, for the proponents to combine the two issues."
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. was noncommittal when asked about the idea. But earlier in the day, he told a gathering of House Democrats that the proposal had merit, according to legislators in attendance.
"He said this is a live question we should take seriously," said one delegate who attended the meeting of the House Democratic Caucus.
The discussion about linking slot machines with tax relief is a response to Glendening's promise to veto any gambling legislation approved by the General Assembly. Slot machine proponents appear to be talking about the idea in part to gauge the likelihood of support among senators and delegates.
The governor has proposed a 10 percent cut in the state's personal income tax rate. But a spokesman said yesterday that Glendening would veto a tax bill if it were linked to legalization of slot machines.
"He has said in the past that no bill that authorizes casinos or slots would pass his desk," said Raymond C. Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman. "That remains his position, including on this most recent proposal."
Miller said yesterday that he thought he could cobble together the 29 votes necessary to override a gubernatorial veto of legislation linking a tax cut with slot machines.
In the past, Taylor has said that he would not push slots legislation, knowing that the governor has threatened a veto. That could change, he suggested yesterday, if substantial support emerged in the Senate.
"Now I'm hearing that the Senate is sending the House of Delegates a bill that's veto-proof. That's a strong message," Taylor said.
Several key legislators, including Taylor and Miller, have supported legalizing slot machines at Maryland's racetracks, and possibly at off-track betting sites, to help the state's horse racing industry.
Some of the revenue generated by the gambling devices would be siphoned off to boost the purses at the state's horse tracks.
Representatives of the racing industry say they need an increase in purses to continue to compete with other states such as Delaware and West Virginia, which have legalized slots or video lottery terminals at their tracks.
Under any proposal to legalize slots, the machines' profits would be heavily taxed, generating significant revenue for the state. That money would help make up revenue lost through a Maryland income tax cut.
Under Glendening's proposal, the state would lose about $450 million yearly once the 10 percent income tax cut was fully in place.
Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, which oversees racing issues, said the idea of tying slots to taxes was a "tentative" one still to be sold to the legislature.
"We're going to have to sit and chat about this," said Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.
One obstacle to such a proposal could be the state Constitution, which dictates that the General Assembly enact legislation that covers only one subject.
But some legislators and staff members said they were confident that they could craft a package bill that would pass constitutional muster.
One opponent of casino-style gambling said he is taking the idea seriously, noting that it would create a dilemma for some legislators.
"At this early stage, I'd be more favorably inclined to oppose gambling even if it means sacrificing income tax reduction," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard County Republican. "I think it's that dangerous."
Del. John S. Arnick, a strong backer of the racing industry, said a slots-tax proposal would have broad appeal in the assembly.
"Tied together in the proper package, you can get an awful lot of people to change their minds" about slots, said Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Pub Date: 1/24/97