Important update: Per the Maryland General Assembly webpage, the date of presentment was actually fixed as May 3. This means the legislative limbo can run as late as June 2.)
On Tuesday Governor Larry Hogan risked carpal tunnel syndrome by signing hundreds of bills into law. The extraordinarily high output was made necessary by two factors: the events in Baltimore that scuttled a planned bill signing back on April 28, and the desire to enact these laws within the period mandated by the state’s constitution. As a refresher, Article II, Section 17 (c) of the Maryland Constitution states:
Any Bill presented to the Governor within six days (Sundays excepted), prior to adjournment of any session of the General Assembly, or after such adjournment, shall become law without the Governor’s signature unless it is vetoed by the Governor within 30 days after its presentment. (Emphasis mine.)
There are a handful of bills which may make it into the books this way. Since the General Assembly session ended at the stroke of midnight April 14. 30 days hence would be tomorrow, May 14. (Update: presentment doesn’t happen with adjournment, as I have found.) Some of the bills in limbo happen to be those which are part of the monoblogue Accountability Project, so you can bet there are some calculations going on about whether a veto can be sustained.
Many of these bills Hogan has held off on signing establish or extend fees and taxes, with a few being issues local to Calvert, Charles, and Howard counties. Two of them extend or increase fees in state courts; in another case I wrote about the “travel tax” of Senate Bill 190 a few weeks ago. Senate Bill 183 would mandate the adoption of the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which would be a budget-buster. He’s also passed on extending the film production activity tax credit that the producers of “House of Cards” wanted.
Business interests, though, should be happy that Hogan hasn’t signed the de facto two-year fracking ban or the extension of flexible leave.
On the social issue end of the spectrum, we do not yet know the fate of bills which would decriminalize marijuana, allow for same-sex couples to have their IVF procedures covered under insurance, let those who have undergone the treatment to revise their gender to change their birth certificates to reflect this, or allow felons who are out of prison but still on probation or parole to vote.
These are less than 5% of the bills which were passed. Many others have already been vetoed as duplicative, but those above are the ones most likely to get an attempt at overriding the veto – or they can try, try again in the next term knowing that the votes for passage were there the last time. Some bills may be improved with a few minor changes that can be worked out while others should just be put out of our misery.
I’m hoping that Governor Hogan sends a strong message by vetoing the following bills I advised voting against:
- House Bill 51 (Circuit Court fees)
- House Bill 54 (Circuit Court fees)
- House Bill 345 (flexible leave)
- House Bill 449/Senate Bill 409 (fracking regulations)
- House Bill 838/Senate Bill 416 (mandated IVF coverage)
- House Bill 862/Senate Bill 743 (birth certificates)
- House Bill 980/Senate Bill 340 (ex-felons voting)
- Senate Bill 190 (travel tax)
If he wishes to let the decriminalization of marijuana become law without his signature, that’s quite all right.
This all goes to show that my monoblogue Accountability Project should be a hot-ticket item when it comes out.
next week. The good news is that it’s free and available for the taking once I upload it Monday. (See the update above.)
A couple weeks ago I noted a prospective resolution for tomorrow’s business session of the Maryland Republican Party’s Spring Convention, which begins tonight in Ocean City. While that Article V convention was a hot topic, this one is even more blazing – so much so that sponsor Joe Burns is forgoing the usual process and banking that he can introduce it from the floor. He adds:
I expect I will be attacked a variety of ways, and other tactics used to prevent any issues like this from being even (being) discussed!
Therefore, I will need your help and assistance, if we are to reign in and correct these problems, now! The next elections and upcoming redistricting issues are at stake! We need to fix this now!
I am taking responsibility for one of our County’s own members. There may be others you feel also deserve some form of action too. I will leave this to your own good judgments!
If we all work together, we can nip some of these problems now, and save the rest of the Party, possibly winning future elections, and fixing redistricting problems!
(Obviously, Joe is heavily into exclamation points.)
The gist of his resolution is a demand that MDGOP Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak be subjected to a “vote of no confidence” and upon the presumed positive result of that vote, step down immediately. Obviously that would make for a much less harmonious convention, but Burns apparently feels the whole situation of submitting one name originally, then being strong-armed into rescinding the original vote and submitting three names for a General Assembly vacancy (as opposed to the tradition of just one) put Carroll County in a bad light. As his resolution reads:
Whereas, through the actions of one significant member of the Maryland State Party, the 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak, as an elected Officer of the Party’s leadership, participated in actively preventing other members of his own Central Committee, blocking information from being passed between members, plus pressuring other County’s Central Committee members, to violate their Oath of Office, or the unencumbered exercise of their franchise, while fulfilling their duties as fellow elected officials, (Article IV, Section 4.1, Subsection b, Clauses (1), & (5) plus Article XII, Section 12.1, & Section 12.2) and,
Whereas, by stating at an open meeting, that all members of any County Central Committee, were not ‘elected officials, as they do not stand for election in a general election, but were therefore equal to and should be only considered as ‘being appointed to their seats’ thus degrading the status and the earned, recognized, legal position of each elected Committee members, and,
Whereas, by his specific actions, both internally on this Committee, and throughout the state, he has tried to remove the lawful control of the State Party from the Central Committee elected delegates, placing it into the hands of a limited number of Party officials, contrary to traditional government by ‘We the People’ under consent of those being governed as outlined in our Constitution, a situation of Party Leadership tyranny is being fostered and created, and by using the power of the Party treasury to fund lawsuits to the detriment of, and promotion of these changes, no individual Central Committee’s independence or sovereign existence is guaranteed, and,
Whereas, as there was no reasonable excuse for the State Party to be involved in this lawsuit or situation at all, spending State Party assets to do so, unless this were an attempt to destroy the Party’s Central Committee’s function and their existence through these actions, thus destroying the Party itself,
Therefore, I submit a resolution under the By-Laws were these actions should be considered as ‘Conduct Unbecoming for an Officer of the Party’, I hereby request and require that 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak be given a vote of ‘No Confidence’ by this Convention for his continuing in office, stepping down immediately as an officer of the Party, and an election for his replacement be accorded as outlined in the State Party By-Laws (Article V, Section 5.5, Subsection e, Clause (2) immediately during this gathering of this Spring Convention.
We go back to the question of whether the Carroll County GOP made the proper play. Thus far the courts have disagreed with Burns, but there is a legitimate question of why the state party had to be involved in the case at all, particularly to the tune of $37,000. On those occasions where previous governors have plucked a member out of the General Assembly for his cabinet, or the more usual death or resignation of a member of either party, the standard procedure was one name picked by the local Central Committee. Carroll County’s first choice wasn’t to Larry Hogan’s liking, so someone requested a do-over. That does seem rather disrespectful of the local officials, yet a majority was fine with that. (You better believe it wouldn’t have been a majority on ours.) Bear in mind that the provision of Article III, Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution does NOT provide for the governor’s rejection of the appointee.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Burns’ accusation is the paragraph where he alleges Helminiak said members of the Central Committee were not elected officials. In the respects that we are not paid for holding office, need not fill out financial disclosures, and are elected in the primary election rather than the general, this is true; however, we do have to take an almost identical oath of office, have to fill out the campaign finance reports (which include having the bank account and selecting a campaign treasurer), and are given a set of responsibilities which include appointing various officials up to and including members of the General Assembly. I don’t know about Carroll County, but ours takes that responsibility seriously.
In 2010, the last time I was elected, 2,139 people said I was an elected official. I think that carries a little weight, don’t you?
I’ve known Larry for several years and to me he’s a stand-up guy. But there is a part of me who would at least support Burns’s resolution getting to the floor because the whole situation stinks to high heaven and I think Larry Helminiak (as well as the other Central Committee members attending the convention) should explain their actions and answer questions about how much influence was really exerted by the governor’s office.
If we are a party which truly stands for limited government and local control, we should make this an example of executive overreach from Annapolis. Just because the guy in Government House has a “R” behind his name doesn’t mean the party has to bow to his every wish.
Last month I wrote about the controversy some Central Committees around the state faced when it came to filling vacancies for Senator and Delegate positions. It boiled down to the preference of Governor Hogan to have a selection of names to choose from when it came to these positions clashing with both the desire of local Central Committees to make the choice and the language of Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution.
If you look at those who have been appointed so far to the various positions, there is a level of familiarity involved: Barrie Ciliberti is a former Delegate returning to the House of Delegates, while Andrew Serafini and Justin Ready have moved up from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there. The seats formerly held by Ready and Serafini are among the three current vacancies in the House of Delegates, with the other being the seat formerly belonging to Delegate Cathy Vitale, who was tapped by the outgoing O’Malley administration to fill an Anne Arundel County judgeship.
In the cases of Ciliberti, Ready, and now Vitale, there has been no shortage of controversy in filling the seats. Supporters of Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the District 4 primary for Delegate, fumed that a member of the slate also consisting of Delegates Kathy Afzali and David Vogt and Senator Michael Hough leapfrogged Peters in the selection process – Barrie Ciliberti was fifth in that primary, but a Frederick County Republican Central Committee consisting of Hough supporters made the decision with Carroll County’s body tabbing Ciliberti as one of their three finalists as well.
Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee has its own stain, replacing its original choice of Robin Bartlett Frazier for District 5 Senate at the behest of the Hogan Administration, which insisted that they amend the process to permit the elevation of then-Delegate Justin Ready to the Senate.
With Anne Arundel County now under the gun to replace Vitale, the three vs. one controversy is back. According to an article in the Capital Gazette by Chase Cook and Sarah Haynesworth, Anne Arundel County’s Central Committee is planning to send just one name to Governor Hogan – at least until there’s a formal request to do otherwise. Apparently such a request is on its way.
If it were my Central Committee, though, that formal request would be crumpled up and thrown into the circular file. The Gazette piece quotes current Delegate Tony McConkey at length, noting that he’s advising the AARCC to send just one name.
As I stated in January, the selection of a state officer should be done closest to the district involved, meaning it would be the Central Committee’s task to select the recipient and not the Governor’s. It’s a similar argument to the one we as a Central Committee have made regarding the wisdom of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County as opposed to the current system of appointees from the governor’s office in Annapolis. Assuming we get the school board as currently envisioned, even the appointees for the hybrid portion of the board and for any vacancies would be done locally.
Yet there’s now another element being thrown into the mix. On her way out the door Delegate Vitale introduced HB1070, which would change the Maryland Constitution to allow for a special election in Presidential years once a vacancy is created. As an example, if the law were in effect today those who were recently appointed would face re-election in 2016 to a two-year term rather than serving all the way until 2018. In its description of the proposal the Gazette is incorrect because the earliest we could see such an election would be 2020 – even if passed this year it would be on the 2016 statewide ballot as a question (most likely Question 1.)
In some respects this is a good idea, but I think this would be very confusing to voters. In certain time frames, it could also be difficult to get a person to serve unless it was understood they would be a caretaker member until the election was over – sort of like the situation we faced in replacing Page Elmore in 2010 during the midst of a primary campaign for his successor. The consensus we reached with Somerset County was to put his widow in the seat until the new Delegate was elected (which turned out to be Charles Otto.)
Nor should we forget that, when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democrat was appointing for a Democratic seat, only one name was turned in by the local party organizations.
If appointments are going to be done in Annapolis from a list of three names, it begs the question: just what function do Central Committees have, anyway? At that point the Appointments Secretary just might as well handle the whole thing. I hope that’s not the overall intent of the Hogan administration, but right now they seem to want to cut the locals out of the process where they can and it’s disappointing.
The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.
Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.
But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.
Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.
These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.
Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:
SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.
(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.
(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.
(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.
(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:
(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.
(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.
(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).
One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.
And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:
We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.
The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.
Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.
Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.
And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.
Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.
There was a lot of excitement in the gubernatorial race on the Republican side yesterday – David Craig formally announced Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio as his running mate and Ron George selected an up-and-coming Republican group for fundraising.
But the potential for a race to out-liberal one another is gaining ground on the Democratic side. We know that Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman have joined forces as one team, but two others threaten to drag that race far to the left. Aside from a formal announcement that’s promised for September, Doug Gansler has made all the moves one would expect from a candidate in the race (and has $5 million or so in the bank); meanwhile, this Tweet came yesterday from MetroWeekly‘s Justin Snow:
.@heathermizeur to announce candidacy for Maryland governor tomorrow. She faces an uphill battle, but could become nation’s first gay gov
— Justin Snow (@JustinCSnow) July 17, 2013
In particular, the gay aspect of the race is intriguing: the guy who had articles of impeachment brought against him for unilaterally declaring Maryland would recognize gay marriages in other states (despite clear language in the Maryland Constitution defining it as between a man and a woman) and is rumored to be considering an openly gay running mate takes on a woman who’s been electorally unaffected by her sexual preference, at least in her legislative district.
Yet while these two are trying to outdo each other with a famously liberal special interest group, what will they do to cater to the rest of the Democratic party, let alone independents? Gay marriage may be a settled issue electorally, but what other ideas would these two have to draw voters to the polls? Say what you will about Anthony Brown and the long shadow of Martin O’Malley, but there is a segment of voters who believe our governor has done a good job which makes up a large segment of would-be primary voters.
Is it possible the Democrats could select someone too far to the left, even for Maryland? Only time will tell, and the bloodier the primary fight the better.
On Tuesday I received an e-mail which I found had no shortage of irony, something which made an otherwise boilerplate press release worth the post.
It was a release about how Maryland horsemen are reaping the benefits from Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County – purses are up and preferences are given to Maryland-bred horses, including enhanced purses when seven or more such horses compete in a race with at least eight participants. To be honest I don’t follow horse racing so that meant nothing to me.
Instead, the money quote (literally) was this otherwise throwaway line:
Rosecroft’s owner has submitted a proposal for the Prince George’s gaming license. The proposal includes a $700 million total investment that includes a hotel and first class integrated gaming and racing facility. Maryland’s Video Lottery Facility Location Commission is expected to make a decision on the award of the license sometime in late 2013.
Surely you should remember that Penn National Gaming, the entity which owns Rosemont, was just scant months ago throwing everything but the kitchen sink into an effort to defeat Question 7, the ballot initiative allowing the Prince George’s facility to be constructed. Their worry was a facility there would cut into the profits from a casino they operate in Charles Town, West Virginia. Amazing how principles go out the window when money is at stake.
It’s obvious I’m still on Penn National’s mailing list from the time when Question 7 was on the ballot, particularly since I was also against the ballot question but for different reasons. (I still contend Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution should be stricken so the General Assembly can change these parameters without the need for a popular vote.) If it weren’t for the sheer hypocrisy of Penn National possibly getting the facility they were dead-set against I would have just deleted the release.
I really have nothing against gambling; although I’ve never set foot in a Maryland casino I have enjoyed casino wagering in Delaware, Michigan, Ontario, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas. My contention is strictly one of the Maryland General Assembly not doing its job.
But it seems very fishy to me that an entity can turn on a dime like that – it would almost be like the case where the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed course regarding donations to Planned Parenthood twice in a short span of time. There won’t be that kind of backlash in this case, but we now see where the priorities for Penn National Gaming lie. It’s all about the Benjamins, isn’t it?
Note: this is my first article posted at the Watchdog Wire.
After seeing several of their other pet issues derailed for months due to spirited referendum efforts by opponents, those who wish to rescind the death penalty in Maryland are trying to take advantage of a provision in the Maryland Constitution to protect a bill to repeal the state’s little-used death penalty from having its fate decided by voters. Polling numbers suggest they have cause to be worried: last month’s Maryland Poll by Gonzales Research pegged support for the death penalty from 49% of those polled, with 44% in opposition.
Yet Article XVI of the Maryland Constitution exempts bills with an appropriation from the referendum process, and a small portion of the crossfiled measures House Bill 295 and Senate Bill 276 both state that:
For Fiscal Year 2015 and each Fiscal Year thereafter, the Governor shall include in the annual budget submission $500,000 for the (State Victims of Crime) Fund, redirected from General Fund savings resulting from the repeal of the death penalty.
That provision would amount to less than 1/1000 of 1% of the overall state budget, but in a strict reading of Article XVI of the state Constitution this clause would seem to preclude any effort for repealing the death penalty in Maryland from being acted upon by the voters in 2014. Passage of the bill is nearly a certainty given the Senate and House versions of the bill respectively have 21 and 67 co-sponsors – 24 Senate and 71 House votes are needed for passage.
(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)
I received an interesting letter today and it regards Question 7. I’m not going to reprint the whole thing (since I’m sure a number of my Republican readers received it as well) but I think the first few paragraphs are worth reprising. You’ll find out who wrote it after I finish – I’m saving that tidbit of information:
Dear Fellow Republicans,
Just like 5 years ago, West Virginia interests are flooding Maryland airwaves with false advertising trying to fool us into putting West Virginia’s interest first, even though it hurts Maryland.
Why West Virginia? Because that is where Penn National’s casino is located. A casino that West Virginia reporters call a “cash cow.” They can’t say that directly, so they hire fancy marketing companies to try and fool us – spending almost $40 million so far to defeat Question 7.
Penn National’s meddling has cost Marylanders hundreds of millions (of) dollars in lost revenue, and would cost us much more if they win in November. It is time we told Penn National to butt out!
We are FOR Question 7
We have teamed up to explain the history of Question 7 and why we are both voting FOR Question 7.
Ten years ago, when gaming (slots) was first introduced to the State Capital (sic) by Governor Bob Ehrlich, we were enthusiastic supporters, as were most Republicans. After years of back and forth, the Maryland Legislature in 2007 passed a slots bill, which was then ratified by the voters in 2008 (passing in every Republican jurisdiction in the State.)
Unfortunately, the 2007 legislation was hastily put together. It put our gaming industry at a decided disadvantage to surrounding states. To put this in perspective, Pennsylvania, which began gambling the same year as Maryland, received $1.5 billion per year in tax revenue while Maryland lost money.
Maryland Republicans supported bringing gaming to Maryland. But, as many of you have said, “if we’re going to have gaming in Maryland, we should do it right.” Well, we agree.
You know, though, it’s uncanny how often my fellow Republican Audrey Scott and I find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue. Her and co-author Michael Steele have exactly diagnosed the disease, but fail to come up with the correct cure.
But before I get to the meat of my argument, allow me to pick out a few points.
It’s worth mentioning that Penn National indeed owns the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia but also owns the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, so they’re not a completely out-of-state entity. That Perryville casino has requested 400 slots be removed so the facility didn’t look as barren and devoid of players, as an empty casino discourages patrons.
On the other hand, MGM wants to be a party-crasher. This comes from a story I found in the Baltimore Business Journal:
MGM decided not to bid for a Maryland casino in 2007 when the state first opened the door to gaming, (MGM CEO James) Murren said. Maryland’s high — 67 percent tax rate on gambling revenue — the state’s resolve to own the video lottery terminals (VLTs) and its refusal to allow table games drove MGM away.
To me, this seems like a form of crony capitalism at its finest, and I wish the state would be as accommodating to securing productive jobs for Maryland residents as it’s bent over backwards for MGM despite their alleged ties to organized crime. The $40 million Penn National has spent has been matched by MGM and casino backers, potentially making this question a nine-figure bonanza for media and other related interests before it’s all said and done. (Hopefully Steele and Scott received a nice little cut for their efforts. It doesn’t hurt to have Prince George’s County ties as both authors do, either.)
The argument about Penn National “costing” Maryland hundreds of millions is also a red herring. Certainly a number of Maryland gamblers go to Charles Town, but there’s no guarantee they’ll suddenly cease to do so if and when a casino at National Harbor opens. And those who flock to National Harbor may well come from other Maryland properties, particularly the Maryland Live! facility in Anne Arundel County. (In turn, that Anne Arundel facility is blamed for cutting Perryville’s business once it opened.) The rosy revenue projections often given to Maryland gambling have seen their bloom fade when reality hits, and there’s no reason to expect this round to do any better.
The crux of the Steele/Scott argument, though, is the request for Maryland to “do it right.” They correctly point out that Pennsylvania is raising far more money – with lower tax rates - than Maryland has. In fact, Maryland’s tax rate on casino operators is among the highest percentages in the country (based on 2010 data) with only New York and Rhode Island in the same neighborhood, although Pennsylvania is above average as well.
But the problem Maryland alone has is the inefficient method of making changes. It’s a point I made back in 2008 to no avail, and we’re now stuck with the folly of needing voter approval to build a facility and place equipment inside.
Voting for Question 7 only repeats the mistake made because, sure enough, someone will come along and promote the next “can’t miss” venture and have to suffer through both a legislative process and voter approval to receive it. Many casino operators don’t like those odds (or those tax rates) which probably explains why just three of the five proposed facilities are in operation four years after voters approved them the first time. A valid question raised by opponents is why the casino authorized in Baltimore City is being promised now when ample time has elapsed to build a slot barn – are they holding it hostage to a better deal? And what’s to stop MGM from demanding a better cut down the road and holding National Harbor hostage?
Maryland casinos should have the flexibility afforded to the Maryland Lottery. When they wanted to join up with MegaMillions and Powerball they didn’t need voter approval; instead, they just went ahead and did it. Certainly there are a few Maryland residents and businesses pleased that a ballot question was unnecessary.
I believe the best way to give the state this sort of leeway is to reject Question 7 and force the state to come back in 2014 with a ballot measure repealing Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution. By repealing Article XIX, it once again frees the General Assembly to make necessary law adjustments because these lines will no longer be in effect:
(d) Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, on or after November 15, 2008, the General Assembly may not authorize any additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming.
(e) The General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approval is granted through a referendum, authorized by an act of the General Assembly, in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the State.
So the game plan is simple: say no now and say yes to repeal of Article XIX in 2014. The National Harbor project is not slated to come online under its current schedule until 2016 anyway, so a two-year wait wouldn’t hurt the state much in the long run.
I’m not naive enough to believe that gambling can be eliminated in Maryland, for three of our neighboring states have let that genie out of the bottle. But if we really want to do it right, the small-d democratic idea of voter involvement has to be eliminated from the process. While the power of the referendum is a useful one, it shouldn’t be a substitute for a General Assembly doing the job it’s appointed to do in a republic.