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October 9, 2007

Right Move, Wrong Reasons

Roy Meachum

Having labored mightily for statewide slots under the governor of their own party, General Assembly Republicans announced they stand in opposition to efforts by Democrat Martin O'Malley to get what Robert Ehrlich could not bring off.

Frederick Sen. David Brinkley bellied up to the chore as the minority leader in the upper house. The reasons given seem to make sense: Mr. Brinkley and his GOP colleagues mightily resent the first-term chief executive's hints about a special session. They argue a more mature consideration would result; no need for Mr. O'Malley holding a gun to their heads.

And that's what special sessions really are about.

They cost barrels of money and wind up with lawmakers tossed about wondering "Who was that masked man?" The bad joke is serious. The hyper pressure creates an atmosphere antithetical to the calm reasoning and discussions that should attend the crafting of all legislative business. Special sessions reduce our Solomons to small children whizzing on skateboards.

Mr. Brinkley is right. Burdening Maryland with more get-rich-quick gambling has not really been considered. Not that I've heard. There's been a lot of non-convincing, twisted rhetoric by the principal beneficiaries of bringing the one-armed bandits to town.

Pulled from dim memories, I seem to recall the original premise was to help education. When that failed to generate movement, we were told slots would save Maryland's hallowed tradition as the mother state of thoroughbreds. (What happened to Kentucky?)

As I understood the argument, the state would place itself in the throes of the racing crowd to save the historic tracks. Pimlico was the prize example. It never made sense that Marylanders should shove their salaries down a coin slot to pad the pockets of an industry that failed to hold on to popular support. But sense took a snooze early on.

Supposedly the dazzling prospect of having an added means of exploiting their get-rich fantasies would cause railbirds to flock to the tracks. Once there, management could care less which segment causes them to part from their pay checks. At the end of the day, given all the additional income, owners and trainers could easily afford higher purses as other nearby states demonstrate.

Despite powerful bipartisan backing the race horsing gambit didn't gallop; it didn't even trot. For which the past administration heartily blamed partisanship, even though they had on their side Maryland's most powerful elected Democrat. State Senate President Mike Miller (Calvert-PG) twisted arms as hard as any Republican. Still no go.

Maryland taxpayers are now presented with the same proposition; only now we are beseeched to save the state budget from a cataclysmic deficit.

Although Mr. O'Malley inherited the screwed-up numbers, GOP orators claim he's responsible. And they are right. Once voters decided Mr. Ehrlich should move on, the blame shifted to the new man in the job. That's politics.

The new governor and his minions decided immediately to try to take advantage of the seeding and plowing already done to line up with neighboring states and bring the machines and the sitting stools aboard.

Caught up in the public yapping, leaders of both parties waived aside all the studies that show slots are a pernicious drain on the economy, benefiting only the owners. Their "easy" money becomes eventually a narcotic in the system, allowing their champions to duck more painful new taxes. Their "quick fix" creates bigger problems down the line, study after study shows.

For whatever reason, unquestionably political, Sen. David Brinkley and his GOP colleagues decided to slow down the governor's rush to shove slots down Marylanders' throats. And that's a good thing.

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