Captial Notebook

November 02, 2007

GOP leaders offer their own slots bill

House Republican leaders yesterday floated an alternative to Gov. Martin O'Malley's slot machine gambling legislation, one they said would more effectively and immediately raise money to stave off the state's impending budget shortfall.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader, and Del. Christopher Shank, the minority whip, proposed raising $850 million by issuing six slots licenses that would be awarded through competitive bidding. The winners would have to comply with local rules in building their emporiums, and one location would be allowed per county. The bill, which mirrored proposals announced in September, did not specify sites.

"The governor's tax and slots plan is as complicated as a Rube Goldberg machine," said Shank, a Washington County Republican. "We really have no idea at the end of the day what we'll be voting on. ... This is far too complicated of an issue. We presented a much simplified alternative, a slots bill on its own that can be readily codified in statute."

Several Republican delegates said O'Malley's plan is too complex and leveled pointed criticism at the notion of a November 2008 referendum on slots that would take the form of a constitutional amendment. They also called for budget cuts in lieu of tax increases, but declined to provide any specifics on what could be cut.

The Republicans' bill will be considered today by the House Ways and Means and Senate Budget and Taxation committees.

Bradley Olson

Real estate agents rally

Chanting "No real estate tax," about 200 real estate agents packed Lawyers Mall outside the State House yesterday before asking legislators to remove real property management services from Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed expansion of the state sales tax base.

Susan Mitchell, a lobbyist representing the Maryland Association of Realtors, referred to the proposal as a "pass-through tax" that would take more money out of the pockets of renters, commercial tenants and homeowners in condominium associations and homeowners associations that use property managers.

"It has impacts to the consumer, to the tenants, to the landlord, to the small-business owner that does property management," added Carole Maclure, president of the Realtors' group.

In addition to increasing the sales tax rate from 5 percent to 6 percent, O'Malley also wants to apply the tax to services including health clubs, tanning parlors, and massages.

The governor also has called for a reduction in the state property tax of 3 cents per $100 in assessed value, though O'Malley recently tied that to voter approval of his slots package.

But Maclure said a property tax rate reduction wouldn't help renters, who do not receive a property tax bill.

"Frankly, for the owner of the property... appreciation has still gone up higher than the difference of the savings. It's not significant to offset anything," she said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said the sales tax might not be extended to health clubs and property management services.

But members of the Maryland Association of Realtors yesterday weren't taking anything for granted.

"We're not out of the mix totally," Maclure said.

James Drew

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