View From The State House
By Cathy Vitale, Delegate,
Summer is now in full swing, school has let out, kids are in camps, and families are either already on or are planning their vacations and family reunions. In our house - the Maryland House of Delegates, that is - there are no plans for summer vacation. Instead, members were busy gearing up for yet another special session.
Since becoming a delegate, there have been two general sessions, two special sessions and of course, the threat of another. This time, the issue is gambling.
After months and months of posturing, a commission was formed from which a recommendation was to be made to the members of the House and Senate, as well as the governor. Included in the proposed recommendations would be whether or not to have a special session, a sixth casino location, tax credits to the current casino owners and whether or not there would be table games.
Multiple meetings were held in the last few months trying to iron out the details that would accompany the sixth location. Among those issues was whether to give a tax break to the casino owners as compensation for changing the deal midstream.
Imagine that, a tax break to the casino owners in the weeks following the largest tax increase in Marylands history. Didnt the state legislature just ignore all those citizens who came to testify, write letters and emails about tax increases? When they were passing laws that would take more money from families, I wonder, were they thinking about the tax increases as an off-set for casino operators? Just wondering.
If a sixth casino were to be authorized and placed in Prince Georges County, Anne Arundel County could stand to lose approximately $137 million a year. The state would increase its revenues by approximately $50 million a year. The trade-off certainly would not be fair to the county.
As most know, I was not a proponent of slots at Arundel Mills. Concerned over traffic, parking and the community surrounding Arundel Mills, there were many unanswered questions when the county was addressing zoning. While I will reserve my opinions of the casino until a later time, I do believe that the state is not acting in good faith in trying to change the deal.
Prince Georges County rejected the idea of slots and gambling when the matter was first presented to the General Assembly. Now that there is a possibility of revenue being retained by those counties that did approve gambling, Prince Georges County wants a piece of the action and the Special Task Force on gambling is considering allowing that to happen.
As I sit writing this column, I have just learned that the work group failed to come to a consensus on a facility in Prince Georges County. Ordinarily that would be good news, but the governors office still insists that a special session may be called on this issue or others.
During the last special session on the budget, legislators were encouraged to respond to a recent court case involving pit bulls. As the work group on that issue continues to meet, support is mounting for legislation that will override the court decision which determined that pit bulls were inherently dangerous.
While I do not have a crystal ball, and thus cannot determine whether or not there will be a summer (special) session, I do know this: politics are strange in Maryland. Sessions dont always just happen in the winter, a deal is only a deal until the legislature says otherwise, and as citizens, sometimes all we can do is wait and see what the fall will bring.
Have a great summer. Remember, if you need me, just send an email, Cathy.Vitale@house.state.md.us or call me at 410-841-3510; 410-544-4937. Summer may be vacation time for families, but for this member of the General Assembly, its the season before session! See you soon.