Counties association favors slots

Qualified support based on program of compensation

October 26, 2007|By James Drew | James Drew,Sun reporter

The Maryland Association of Counties offered qualified backing yesterday for Gov. Martin O'Malley's call to legalize slot machine gambling, saying it "could be an acceptable long-term state revenue source, were such a program responsibly crafted."

"A responsible slots program must provide continuing fair and full compensation to the host subdivisions for impact expenses and respect local land use authority," according to a statement distributed at a news conference at the State House.

When asked whether local elected officials there would support slots within their boundaries, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith, a Democrat, replied: "It's too early to get into where they may be located. We don't know enough about the governor's proposal or the discussions with the speaker and the president of the Senate."

MACo leaders also urged legislators to approve O'Malley's plan to eliminate a projected $1.7 billion shortfall for the state budget starting next July.

The Democratic governor's package includes an increase in the state sales tax from 5 cents to 6 cents, extending the tax to cover more services, changing the income tax structure so that high earners pay more and low- and middle-income filers pay less, an increase in the corporate income tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent, closing corporate loopholes and a property tax reduction.

The governor also backs legalizing slot machine gambling, but he has signaled he might back a referendum on that proposal.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and the executives of Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Wicomico counties warned of the consequences if the General Assembly were to cut spending instead of raising taxes.

They delivered their message two days after O'Malley released a 20-page report, called the "Cost of Delay" budget, that outlines cuts of $850 million to local jurisdictions and $800 million to state agencies and programs.

Republicans referred to the governor's move as a scare tactic and noted that Democratic legislative leaders released a similar list of doomsday cuts over the summer in arguing for new revenue measures.

MACo officials said that if the state chooses spending cuts over tax increases, the burden of balancing the budget would be shifted to local governments, which would be forced to consider their own cuts and property tax increases.

"That pain would be very real and it would impact Maryland families," said Jan H. Gardner, a Democrat who is president of both MACo and the Frederick County commissioners.

Meanwhile, O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown used their campaign e-mail to distribute a memo prepared by their pollster, Fred Yang, commenting on two polls released this week that he says show "broad support for the revenue reforms we've proposed to close the $1.7 billion hole we've inherited."

"Of course, there are pieces of our proposal that different people will dislike -- for example, there is less support for a sales tax," O'Malley and Brown wrote. "But taken as a whole, our plan is fair."

Yesterday, the Maryland Republican Party noted one of those polls, conducted by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, that showed O'Malley's disapproval rating rose to 31 percent from 21 percent in March. The change was attributed to a shift among Republican voters. The poll also found that nearly two-thirds of voters opposed the proposed increase in the state sales tax to help reduce the budget deficit.

Jim Pelura, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said in a statement: "Martin O'Malley owns this tax increase plan. As Marylanders learn more about his tax-and-spend scheme, it comes as no surprise that O'Malley's disapproval ratings will soar. Nobody likes tax increases, and O'Malley has compounded the problem by telling folks that they will be better off after the largest tax hike in Maryland history. He has lost all credibility with Marylanders."

Also yesterday, the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO said it had voted to support O'Malley's budget plan.

The labor federation noted that it was "instrumental in Martin O'Malley's quest for the State House."

"The earlier than usual endorsement of him provided tremendous volunteer and financial support in the successful effort to defeat Robert Ehrlich, making Maryland the only state to unseat a sitting governor," the AFL-CIO statement said.

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