Here Come the Catches

As the start of his campaign to convince Marylanders that the only way to balance the state’s miserable budget was through a combination of tax increases and changes to the tax code, Governor Martin O’Malley made some pretty bold assertions, that he could increase revenues and still be able to cover the budget shortfall and still cut property taxes. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That siesmic thump you just heard is a shoe so big is makes Shaq’s foot look positively infantile in size.

Today the the Baltimore Sun reports that the Governor is going to tie his proposed property tax cut to passage of the slots referendum.

If the General Assembly places a slots referendum on the November ballot next year and voters approve it, the state would get enough revenue to offset a proposed 3-cent property tax cut for homeowners from fiscal year 2010 through 2012 – and also hundreds of millions more for health care and higher education, Joseph C. Bryce, O’Malley’s legislative director, told lawmakers yesterday.
But if voters reject the slots constitutional amendment, then the state won’t be able to reduce its property tax rate, Bryce said at a joint session of three legislative committees reviewing O’Malley’s budget plan.

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What’s next?

Defeat of the slots referendum also would prevent the state from pouring an additional $300 million into school construction, Bryce said.

And the state would not be able to use 50 percent of the revenue generated from the proposed increase in the corporate income tax rate for holding down college tuition, completing capital projects at two-year and four-year colleges and funding work force investment, according to the governor’s office.

That money would be needed to balance the general fund, Bryce said.

At a news conference, O’Malled said that he had to tie his tax plan and the slots referendum together to “make sure this all fits together.” I don’t recall first, the mention of a referendum on slots and certainly don’t recall hearing about the slots referendum passing in order to do all these other things.

Yesterday, I called putting the slot matter to a referendum was political cowardice. Well that move is like comparing a penny ante poker game to the World Series of Poker. By announcing all of the danger to all of these other matters if a referendum isn’t passed is an even greater political CYA and a massive blunder.

At this point, even though I could care less about slots, I am willing to throw my support behind a defeat the slots referendum campaign for three reasons.

First, I can’t stand political cowardice–it simply drives me up the wall. by punting this issue to the people and then tying all of these generally good and necessary needs to the passage, it tells me that the General Assembly and Uncle Marty are incapable of making really tough choices and are more interested in getting re-elected in 2010 than in doing their job.

Second, not giving the General Assembly and Uncle Marty the slots money means that will have to do one thing or the other. Either be explicit about raising taxes and suffer the consequences or actually cut spending. At this point, I could care less which.

Third, I don’t want the General Assembly or any elected leaders to think that slots are the tree upon which state money will grow. Yes, it can bring in money, but it cannot solve our budget problems. The way to balance the budget is to balance the budget with what we have in the piggybank, not what we wish was in the piggybank.

I urge all the Red Marylanders out there to think long and hard about not supporting the referendum–I don’t want to give the General Assembly the political cover.

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