WCRC meeting – September 2008

For the most part our club stepped away from partisan politics last night and looked at one of the other key issues we in Maryland will decide come November 4th. Last night we heard from Harry Shaw, a representative of Marylanders United to Stop Slots.

Of course we didn’t entirely abandon the business at hand, getting reports from the Central Committee, Young Republicans, and the campaigns of Andy Harris for Congress and John McCain. Since that portion of the agenda was first I’ll begin with those accounts.

Wicomico County Republicans are unlike their state counterparts, noted county Chair Dr. John Bartkovich, in that we have endorsed a NO vote on both the slots and early (and often) voting Constitutional amendments. The state party didn’t take a position on slots, but we chose to. We’re also going to continue our practice of sign waving for another few weeks at our present location before moving to another better-lit location in October. John also exhorted us to “keep the excitement up”; the excitement being the enthusiastic response to the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket. (I got my “Sarah Palin for Vice President” sticker yesterday as well.)

In the meantime, Mark Biehl told us that two new members were in the fold because of the Palin effect and announced the Lower Shore YR’s are preparing for their debut as a team in Wicomico County Relay for Life this weekend. (I’m part of that team, you can donate to my cause here.) They were about 70 percent of the way to their donation goal and right on the edge of the top 10 teams overall. Later this year, they’ll turn their attention to a canned food drive.

Dustin Mills, speaking on behalf of the Andy Harris Congressional effort, noted that the race between Harris and Democrat opponent Frank Kratovil was “tighter” than previously, placing the polling difference at 3-5 points. In the offing were several chances to help out, with phone banking, door knocking, and an upcoming fundraiser on October 12 co-hosted by Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis. The biggest upcoming event is the first debate between Harris, Kratovil, and Libertarian officeseeker Richard James Davis – it will be held September 30 at Holloway Hall at Salisbury University. I’ll be there taking notes and hopefully sneaking in a question or two.

The final report came from Wicomico County for McCain co-chair Bonnie Luna, who thanked the club for its support of the Wicomico GOP headquarters. Her head count back on the 6th was 103 people, which is outstanding given the conditions at the time (that little windstorm called Tropical Storm Hanna.) So far it’s been a “huge success” and we “can’t keep up with the demand” for McCain/Palin signs and bumper stickers. A portion of that is being the only area county to have a headquarters this time around so we’ve become a regional hub of activity. Bonnie also reported that preparations are underway for a McCain/Palin rally on October 4th with around 300 to 400 expected to attend. I’ll be there, just don’t make too much of a mess for me to clean up!

It was one of our longer business sessions, so we kept Harry waiting awhile to say his piece. Speaking for MUSS, he maintained that slots were “not a partisan issue” but that many Democrats were afraid to speak out against them for fear of crossing Governor O’Malley, who Shaw felt was backing away from the issue somewhat as polls have shown support for the amendment declining. Harry also brought up the $2 million dumped into the pro-slots side by a Canadian firm, MI Developments. A subsidiary of theirs operates two horse racing tracks in the state.

Shaw also pointed out that several state newspapers had come out against the effort, most recently the Easton Star-Democrat. Moreover, adding slots to the state Constitution would require further changes to be made via referendum each time something new was desired.

But the main argument advanced by Harry was to follow the money. Originally the rationale behind video slot machines was to save Maryland’s dying horse racing industry, but then the pro-slots focus shifted to providing dollars for education. One handout Shaw brought with him was the fiscal note for the slots legislation (it was SB3 in the 2007 Special Session, here’s the full .pdf version) and what it shows clearly is that slots will do nothing to fix the state’s FY2010 (the budget year starting July 1, 2009) problems and little to assist in FY2011. Not until fiscal 2012 would video slots impact the budget to the tune of just over $1 billion – assuming the projections are correct and generally revenue projections from the beancounters in Annapolis have been through rose-colored glasses lately. In short, Shaw and MUSS say the dollars “won’t do the job.” He added, “practically speaking, (slots) won’t solve our (financial) problems.”

While much of Harry’s argument was on the financial side (he is retired after 13 years with the Office of Management and Budget in Washington and an Army career before that), he also briefly mentioned the moral side, asserting that video slots are the “crack cocaine of gambling” and again wondering why the Democrats aren’t talking about the issue in their forums. (While I can’t say for sure, my guess is that Shaw’s a registered Democrat – he claimed to be a fiscally conservative liberal.) He also related briefly about his frequent testimony against slots, dating back to the Ehrlich Administration.

On a personal level, I’m astounded that the judges who decided the ballot language wasn’t misleading after adding one word (so that the amendment will read licenses will be primarily for the purpose of raising revenue for education) could say that with a straight face when in truth as little as 48.5% could be allocated to school funding. Up to 1/3 goes to the video slot operators for their cut, with the rest divided between the horse racing industry (one passionate supporter in the room was in that industry but abandoned it because of the poor purses in Maryland compared to Delaware), local government, state lottery operations, and minority business investment. My question to Shaw was whether there was any guarantee that the percentages couldn’t change in the future, since the Constitutional amendment does not lock those figures in stone. No doubt the majority in the General Assembly can and probably will tweak those numbers after passage in order to buy whatever votes they need in 2010.

I’ll ask the same question next month and see if I can stump the pro-slots speaker, Tom Saquella of the Maryland Retailers Association. That meeting comes eight days before the election on October 27th.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

One thought on “WCRC meeting – September 2008”

Comments are closed.