Last month we heard from the anti-slots side, so this month Tom Saquella of the Maryland Retailers Association came to sell his position on the video slot machine Constitutional Amendment, Question 2.
Naturally we had some other business to take care of before we heard from Tom, and that’s what we did. The minutes and Treasurer’s report were quickly taken care of, so we got to hear several reports from the other groups who monthly keep us updated: Central Committee, Young Republicans, Andy Harris’s campaign, and the local McCain-Palin forces.
County chair Dr. John Bartkovich led off by telling us the polls were “meaningless,” giving the example of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election where he trailed in the polls late but ended up winning 49 states. The message was simple: we need to keep fighting and turn out our side. The Young Republicans touted their recent Relay for Life fundraising (over $1,700) and announced they’ll soon be putting together a canned food drive for the holidays.
Mark McIver represented the Harris campaign and revealed some very good new poll results to us, results which showed both Harris and McCain were narrowly leading in the First District by nearly identical margins. We were also getting a positive response from independent voters. It was also made clear that the Democrats had plenty of money to buy campaign commercial time, spending over $100,000 a week to flood the district’s two media markets with anti-Harris diatribes. McIver remarked that “we can’t let the Democrats buy the First District.” While the liberal Democrats in Congress have been helping Frank Kratovil out with fundraising and advice, we’ll have some help of our own from the office of Florida Congressman David Weldon.
Since their message was pretty much the same, all that Bob Laun added on the McCain campaign’s behalf was a reminder of our victory party on November 4th. It was also noted that the excitement hadn’t waned as signs and bumper stickers were still being snapped up from our headquarters as quickly as they arrived.
With the reports dispatched, it was time to hear from our guest. Tom Saquella was representing the group known as For Maryland – For Our Future. He made it clear that he’d been supporting slots since they were first introduced under Governor Ehrlich, but “the General Assembly couldn’t agree” on a proposal during that period, so they decided to place the decision in the hands of the voters. As far as his organization was concerned, Saquella claimed that 85% of their members backed the proposal, noting their assertion that slots would be “good for retailers” and bring jobs and business to the state.
Tom gave us a brief history of the structural deficit which slots were envisioned to assist in rectifying, noting that it stemmed from two decisions: a tax cut enacted in the late 1990’s and the Thornton school funding mechanism, which Saquella explained was passed to avoid a much more costly lawsuit and a judge deciding how much “adequate” funding of schools would be. With the current revenue stream, there was “no way” to fund Thornton – thus we needed Question 2 to pass “more than ever.” Slots were the third leg of the stool to address the structural deficit after tax increses and spending cuts – however, they couldn’t yet address this year’s deficit that Saquella termed “cyclical.”
While Tom admitted the General Assembly took the “chicken way out” by placing the Constitutional Amendment on the ballot, he pointed out Maryland’s Constitution isn’t as sacred as one might think, using the example of City of Baltimore parking regulations enshrined in the document. And because the voters have to amend the Constitution to make changes, this amendment was “no slippery slope” to extended gambling.
Much of his argument centered on the questions of why we should continue to send money to adjacent states who have slots and what the alternatives would be if the ballot issue failed to pass. For the first question, Saquella claimed that slots would create 5,000 new permanent jobs and add $100 million in disposable income. “The economic pie will get bigger,” Tom argued, also pointing out the potential boost in tourism. There was also the potential of avoiding cuts in local funding should slots pass – in all, this was “taxpayer friendly.”
On the second point of alternative financing if slots fail, Saquella posited that 80 percent of state funding went to education, health care, and public safety – what would you cut? And the argument foes of Question 2 make about social costs was specious, as Tom called them “minor” and cited studies which showed crime and problem gambling were not increased in other locales which already had slots, like Delaware. Taxes and budget cuts have a social cost too, said Saquella.
Most of the questions focused on why the General Assembly couldn’t do its proper job and pass the issue without going to the voters – one comment was that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” referring to Democrats in the General Assembly creating the financial mess but being rewarded with more money to spend. And nothing was set in stone about the funding proportions in the Constitutional Amendment – Tom could only retort when asked about the likelihood that the 48.5% devoted to schools being reduced by the General Assembly at some future date that if education were cut it would surely bring about a lawsuit.
In all, Saquella made some compelling arguments but most of those in the room were already set against the issue for various reasons. Only time will tell whether the voters in Maryland will alter the Constitution some more and bail the state out of making tough decisions.
At the moment we have no speaker set for our next meeting which will be on Monday, November 24. Quite possibly this will be a review session on our election strategy and finalizing any details on the club’s Christmas party later in December.