Is the slots question fair?


August 23, 2008

The language summarizing the slots referendum on the November ballot must "permit an average voter, in a meaningful manner, to exercise an intelligent choice."

That's what Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled in a 1992 case regarding the referendum that preserved a woman's right to choose whether to have a child.

Consequently, that's the legal standard that Maryland courts would apply to any challenge to Secretary of State John P. McDonough's wording of the referendum on the constitutional amendment to authorize slots in Maryland ("Slots ballot wording is criticized," Aug. 19).

The proposed constitutional amendment authorizes slots "for the primary purpose of raising revenue" for prekindergarten through 12th-grade public school education, including school construction.

There is no mention of purse money for racetracks in the amendment. The allocation of some slots money for that purpose was made by another piece of legislation, which will take effect only if voters approve the slots referendum.

Thus the claims by opponents of slots that the summary of this amendment on the November ballot must refer to horse racing should fall on deaf ears.

Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, Baltimore

The writer is a member of the House of Delegates.

Something is certainly very wrong with the language of the slots referendum Marylanders will vote on in November.

If the constitutional amendment itself mentions only education as the beneficiary of the revenue raised by any slots operations that may be authorized by it, why is it that contingent legislation specifies that certain percentages of it will first go to non-education matters?

The contingent legislation, enacted at the same 2007 special legislative session in which the constitutional amendment was drafted for submission to the voters, and which goes into effect only if the slots ballot question is adopted, specifies that before providing anything at all for education, the state comptroller must turn over up to 33 percent of the proceeds from slots to private entrepreneurs who hold the slots operating licenses; 7 percent (or up to $100 million a year) to horse racing purses; 2.5 percent (or up to $40 million a year for the first eight years) to the racetrack facility renewal account; 5.5 percent to local impact grants; 1.5 percent to the Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Businesses Account; and 2 percent to the lottery agency.

That would leave less than half of the slots revenue for education.

If this can somehow be justified, how can the language that describes the ballot question be worded in such as way as to make readers and voters believe that a vote for the ballot question simply provides money for education and nothing more?

In fact, education seems to have been the last priority of those legislators who supported both the constitutional amendment and the contingent legislation.

Some of them obviously put their own special interests first.

What kind of nonsense is going on here anyway? How about a little truth in advertising?

We could have had a totally state-controlled slots operation that raised money only for our education system. Instead, we get this.

If this misleading mess gets on the ballot as Question 2 in November, I'll be voting against it.

We can do better.

Kenneth A. Stevens, Savage

Slots opponents are rightly concerned about the wording of the gambling ballot question. The blame for this problem, however, should not be directed at Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough.

As he has stated, the draft adheres "to the constitutional amendment, which mentions only the educational funding." The allocation of some slots revenue to racing and gambling is specified in separate legislation that the public will not get to vote on.

The members of the General Assembly separated the two funding aspects of slots in a deliberate and dishonest attempt to manipulate the vote.

Who wouldn't approve a referendum that will fund better education?

But why should private gambling interests benefit so handsomely as the state props up a private entertainment industry that can't compete on its own merits?

Avoiding mention of the disposition of almost half of slots revenues in the wording of the ballot measure is just plain deceitful.

Melvin Barnhart, Randallstown

Social workers deserve a boost

I remember the response many years ago when I told an aunt I was entering social work school: "Why do you want to spend your life giving out 'home relief' checks" ("It's time for the givers to receive," Commentary, Aug. 19)?

Social work has come a long way from the days when social workers were almost solely identified with "welfare" and the distribution of "checks."

These days, professionally trained (and licensed) social workers are common in social services as diverse as foster care, adoption, geriatric care, substance abuse and community mental health facilities.

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