Special Session 2.0 has come to an end. The House was called back to Annapolis on Friday, August 10th and we spent most of our time waiting for deals to be made. Over the next 5 days, we spent approximately 8 hours in the House Chamber (not exactly the best use of my time for the week!).
During this time I promised to keep an open mind about the gaming legislation in my efforts to best serve your needs, even though I was adamantly opposed to being called back to Annapolis for frivolous reasons. I say frivolous because this was something that should have been handled during our regular session. Regardless of my personal opinion, it was important to attend the hearings so that I could better understand what I was voting on - but equally important so that I could report back to you so that you could potentially vote on it in November.
I ultimately felt I had no other recourse other than to vote NO on the gaming bill - close to midnight last night - but not because I was opposed to certain parts of the bill. I supported the amendment to allow veteran's organizations to obtain gambling machines in their facilities. I have fought this battle many times on behalf of our Veterans and will continue to support those that have given so much to us. Our Frederick County Delegation has supported this effort for many years and it is very important to give our Vets the same opportunities as those that are enjoyed by the Eastern Shore. The good news is that this amendment is not subject to the referendum in November, and should this referendum fail to get a majority vote, the organizations still get their machines.
The amendment did fall short on a few issues:
1. The machines on the Eastern Shore are Video Lottery Terminals (slot machines). The amendment allows for all counties (except Montgomery) to have machines that are similar in nature to have pull tab machines (looks and feels like a slot machine, but has a guaranteed payout).
2. The organizations on the Eastern Shore are not subject to giving money back to the state. The amendment allows the organization to keep 5.5% and pays 4.5% back to the state. They have a 90% payout rate.
There were three major issues that I had with the bill as presented last night.
1. Casino owners would be exempt from paying property tax on their "video lottery terminals and any associated equipment and software owned or leased by a holder of a video lottery operation license." This bill exempts one specific industry from paying property taxes while Maryland small businesses are struggling to stay viable. Often, in Annapolis, we are forced to pick winners and losers, and in this case, with the limited amount of time to address this issue, I chose to say that our existing small businesses are more important.
2. Taxes - The legislature was brought to Special Session 1.0 in May so that we could raise YOUR income taxes! I fought hard against that effort, but the administration believed that we needed to raise revenues so that you could continue to support their spending habits. NOW, they want to decrease the tax rate of one industry with deep pockets. I believe this to be an insult to you the taxpayers and Maryland businesses that are constantly being burdened with higher & higher tax rates.
3. Maryland's business climate -During my term I have been very focused and determined to find ways in which we can work together to create a better business environment. The perception of CEOs across the country, when looking to locate businesses in MD, has been poor - and continues to decline. Maryland ranks 40th in the nation as desirable locations to start a new business. The legislature just passed a piece of legislation that benefits ONE special interest group without providing any supporting data on how it will affect other existing Maryland businesses. We were not given any data that shows this state can support an additional site, but instead were told that the existing locations and counties would continue to receive revenues even if their facility was not successful. I am extremely concerned about the precedent that we are creating for the future.
Now, the bill will be in your capable hands. Are there attractive pieces of the legislation? Yes, but you need to be able to make that final decision with all the facts at hand.
The bill, as passed, will not allow the question of an additional site to be separated from the table games issue. That is unfortunate because I believe that issue had some merit (NOT to be called into special session, but certainly worthy of discussion in January).
November will be important on so many levels and the voters of Maryland will have 4 referendum questions that will need to be addressed. If you have ANY questions on any of these issues, I would be very happy to answer them or find the answer for you.
Thank you for your emails and phone calls of support over the past several weeks. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to represent you in Annapolis.