Red Maryland is against the Slots Amendment

We’ve done endorsements in the past, and we are here with another Red Maryland endorsement. Surprising no one I’m sure, Red Maryland is against the Slots Amendment and encourages you to vote no.

Below the fold, Red Maryland contributors explain their positions:

Brian Griffiths: Of all of the people in Maryland’s blogospohere, I have probably been one of, if not the, most vocal proponents of the expansion of gambling in Maryland. And not just the addition of slots, but also my long-standing support of table gaming here in Maryland.

All that being said, I am voting no on the slots referendum.

The reason that I am voting no is quite simple; the language contained in the Constitutional Amendment has no business being in the actual constitution. I go back to what I wrote last November during the Special Session:

And that’s the problem with the slots plan as currently proposed. Making it a Constitutional Amendment will artificially limit the location of slots parlors to certain jurisdictions or, in the cases of one of the plans floating out there, limiting them to certain geographic coordinates within municipalities or defined areas. That is not the point of a Constitutional document. This amendment goes into specific details about plans that would make the location of slots parlors difficult or impossible to change since any change to those locations would require the approval of the voters.

A Constitutional Amendment on slots, at least one as specific as the legislators are currently discussing, is a problem hatched by legislators to address a concern the voters really don’t have. The voters want the legislators to deal with the issues. The legislators want to pass the buck the voters. Ultimately, the legislative leadership is abdicating its responsibility to lead, and in doing so handcuffing whatever potential profit the state may have from slots revenue given the constraints of using a Constitutional Amendment as a change agent (and as political cover)…

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And I stand by that still. The fact of the matter is that such language adopted in the Constitution will make it nearly impossible to correct any shortcomings with slots, particularly with slot parlor locations, once it is ensconced in the Constitution. At that point, If zoning becomes an issue as the Amendment allows, there is no useful way to fix it; any changes would also need to be adopted as Constitutional Amendments and subjected to another referendum to state voters. That’s no way to make public policy.

On top of Constitutional concerns, the bill as stated is just bad policy and bad politics. Table gaming, not slots is what is needed in order to create gambling revenues in the state (a conclusion even Baltimore City was able to reach). And what’s of even greater concern is the amount of corruption that we have already seen this amendment bring. Clearly, the slot parlor locations determined by the Amendment are no accident, because legislative and Democratic leaders know exactly who is supposed to operate these parlors and win these licenses. Combine that with the buying and selling of legislators we saw from back in the Special Session, and you already know what kind of enterprise O’Malley and Company have created.

Like many, I am pro-gambling, but I cannot in good conscience vote for a poorly written, poorly conceived idea just because it moves this ball forward. I’m voting no, and anybody who supports the expansion of gambling in a logical and constructive manner should do the same…

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Kenny Burns: I guess you can count me in the middle (where I normally am I guess.) I am positively for slots. It is a necessary evil in regards to keeping money in Maryland, however, I am not for this referendum by any means. It’s a cop out by our leaders in Annapolis to pass the buck, just so their names will not be etched in stone as endorsing slots. I also find it to restrictive and a waste of ink on the state constitution when important matters should be on there, not for issues that deserve a true up or down vote.

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D.C. Russell: I guess I’m still on the fence.

On the one hand, I tend to oppose most government prohibitions of things like gambling, smoking, drinking, etc., so I’m for allowing people to gamble on slots, and allowing them to do so in Maryland instead of somewhere else.
On the other hand, I strongly oppose:
* Government conduct of gambling or similar enterprises
* Giving the government more money to waste
* Subsidizing the racing industry
* Polluting the state constitution

I probably won’t decide how to vote until much closer to the election, It is possible that my vote will be decided by how dirty the slots campaign gets.

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Michael Swartz: On a personal level I have no issue with gambling; after all, I’ve been known to drive up Route 13 and join many of my fellow Marylanders trying my luck at Harrington. Gambling on the ponies is a long-standing tradition in the state and there’s a small percentage of the proceeds from the new video slots that is promised to help the horse racing industry here in Maryland. More recently the state has adopted the Maryland Lottery and its array of number games like MegaMillions or Keno and the scratch-off tickets one can find at any corner store worth its salt. My beef with the issue is changing the state Constitution to address a problem that could have easily been solved legislatively and would have been if Maryland Democrats had placed political pride aside and made Governor Ehrlich’s slot proposals a bipartisan effort. But as always they played the political game and dared Republicans to come out against their ballot effort and appear hypocritical.

There is no hypocrisy in holding a position favoring slots through legislative means but not through the sledgehammer of a Constitutional amendment which would need voter approval again and again when changes were required. Not everyone wants video slots in their area; here on the Eastern Shore there are officials in Ocean City who worry about losing a family-friendly image, or worse, that the traffic once bound for the beach will decide instead to stop at the Ocean Downs race track and proposed casino location several miles away and skip the beach because they’re too broke to go there after losing their spending money. And that’s their right as local officials to do what they feel is best for residents’ long-term quality of life. If they turn out wrong, the voters can reject their bids for re-election the next opportunity they get.

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Chester Peake: I am ambivalent about slots. Play them occasionally, don’t think they should be a crutch to prop up government spending… But definitely against this specific intrusion in the state constitution that is a bad plan that may pay off O’malley buddies.

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Greg Kline: While I am not opposed to slot machine gambling generally and supported former Governor Ehrlich’s slots proposal, I oppose the current constitutional amendment. Unlike the Ehrlich plan, the current slots proposal is not intended as an alternative to tax increases but is just another way to prop up unbridled state spending. Without slots, Ehrlich cut spending and did not raise sales, gas and income taxes. With slots, O’Malley has and likely will again raise all these taxes and continue to increase overall spending by state government. Such a reckless course should be stopped now.

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Tim Patterson: On the proposed constitutional amendment allowing up to 15,000 slot machines at pre-determined locations in Maryland, I am four-square against the proposed Amendment.

First, I think the use of proposed constitutional amendment is a blatant and horrific abuse of our state Constitution. The Constitution specifically proscribes the use of referendums for revenue generation. This backdoor approach to circumventing our constitution is a heinous abuse of power by the Governor and the General Assembly. We should remember that the state Constitution is OUR Constitution, not theirs. It does not belong to the government, it belongs to the people. Abusing it in this way is no less a “taking” of our rights than government condemnation of private property.

Second, the use of a proposed constitutional amendment is a supreme act of cowardice and dissembling on the part of every member of the General Assembly that voted for it. The Constitution specifically lays out that it is the Governor and the General Assembly that must formulate a budget, and the “ways and means” by which to raise revenue to meet that budget. By refusing to vote on appropriate revenue legislation to fund a budget, they have abdicated their Constitutional obligations — as espoused in their oaths of office — and they should not be allowed to so easily surrender those obligations unless and until they are willing to resign their office.

Third, the structure of this approach is silly. They are putting slots in areas that make no sense — Rocky Gap, South Baltimore, Cecil County — and leaving them away from areas where gambling already goes on, such as Pimlico. If this was so much about “saving the horseracing industry”, why shouldn’t that industry be responsible for hosting, securing, and operating those machines? The answer of course, is that the amendment is not about that. It is about creating a neutered revenue stream for socialist spending priorities above and beyond what a responsible taxation regime could provide. That also makes the proposed amendment facially dishonest (no matter what a few robed potentates might declare).

Fourth, the United States Constitution guarantees each citizen a “republican” form of government in each state. The purpose of OUR Constitution in Maryland is to provide a basic framework and a guarantee of how government shall (not should, not might, not can, but shall) operate. Based on my first and second points, I believe that using constitutional amendments in a manner that abrogates those republican structures and responsibilities is a patent violation of our guarantees under the United States Constitution.

Therefore, I will be voting AGAINST the proposed amendment, and I will consider this issue even in 2010, when I vote for Governor, State Senator, and the House of Delegates.

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Mark Newgent: While in principle I am not opposed to slots or table gaming for that matter, I will vote against this referendum. Here’s why:

1. Authorization of slots is an issue for the General Assembly and the Governor to deliberate and decide. They punted, and I’m for punting it right back to them. Get some fortitude and take a position on an issue your constituents sent you to Annapolis to decide.
2. The state constitution is no place to determine who gets slots, how many, and where they shall be placed. O’Malley sycophants will argue that off-street parking in Baltimore city is in the constitution. However, arguing that one inappropriate item is in the constituion is no argument for adding a second inappropriate item to the document.
3. Furthermore, the state constitution is no place to enshrine political payoffs to the governor’s campaign contributors.
4. The referendum and its supporters deceptively claim the revenue is for education. Yeah right, that money will go straight to the general fund, see point 5.
5. Some will argue that failure of slots will mean more tax increases. Aren’t you knuckle dragging troglodyte conservatives against tax increases? My answer is, so what! Even if the referendum passes, slots still won’t generate enough revenue to help cover the projected budget deficit.
6. If Democrats could vote against slots to screw Ehrlich, why can’t Republicans vote against it screw O’Malley.

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Brian Gill: As a general principle, I believe that the government shouldn’t protect people from their own stupidity. I don’t buy into any of the economic arguments against slots, particularly the one that suggests that they would be a vacuum for disposable income. Disposable income is just that, and the government has no business deciding how ours may be spent Slots as an abstract theory, therefore, I support.

That said, I am against the slots proposal in this particular circumstance. The constitutional amendment is improper, perhaps mostly because it make it that much harder for citizens to change their mind. In the O’Malley administration, we have endured numerous offenses and bad ideas with little direct ability to do anything about it. Maybe the slots will work, but maybe they won’t. And if they don’t, I fear that the voters would have a hard time repealing a policy that is so entrenched.

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Matt Johnston: I am opposed to the Constitutional Amendment for the following reasons.

1. The Maryland Constitution is not a place for this kind of legislative activity. A Constitution is a document that describes the structure of government, its macro-level operational contours and the rights, responsibilities and duties of the citizenry and governmental institutions. Measures involving revenue generation (not normally something the Maryland General Assembly is squeamish about) is the duty of the General Assembly, not the citizenry.

2. The fact that the General Assembly foisted this measure off on the voters is an act of political cowardice that simply should not be tolerated. By doing this, the General Assembly is trying to have its cake and eat it too. At a time when budgets are going to be crunched by dwindling tax receipts, the General Assembly is doing its duty by either A) cutting spending (the preferred response) or B) raising taxes and thus bear the brunt of that decision or C) a combination of the two. What the General Assembly will get is if the measure passes, a big revenue stream they will spend without guilt or reason. If the measure fails then they can point to the failure of the measure as the reason for having to take such drastic budgetary cuts. What the General Assembly won’t have to do is should the responsibility. As I said–cowardice.

3. I don’t want the state to get addicted to the revenue stream. Stop me if you have heard this before, but the revenue is supposed to be used for education. I am all for education spending, but the reality of the matter is that the slots revenue will be thrown at education without any regard for how it will be used, where it will be used and on what programs. Furthermore, slots revenue is like everything else, it is not guaranteed and what will happen if the revenue is not what was expected? The measure is bound to create an addiciton to revenue that cannot be cured later.

4. The measure improperly interferes with business. By putting the slots only in pre-determined locations, the State dictates where the market will operate. It is one thing to ban slots outright (I don’t agree with it, particularly since the state allows gambling on horse racing), but it is a far different matter to say that slots will be in such and such a location and no other place. If slots are to be allowed, slots owners should be allowed to put them in any location where they can get a permit from the local government. Adding to the matter is that if the move is designed to help the horse racing industry, why then are not slots being put at already existing tracks?

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