By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. introduced legislation Wednesday that would legalize slot machines and raise the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, indicating that he wants to address the state's fiscal problems this year.
Miller, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, even warned that the General Assembly may need to hold a special summer session in order to take on these issues.
"We should be back here in June, July, August, whatever it takes," Miller said after Wednesday's Senate session. "As long as it takes we need to get back down here as quickly as possible."
The slots legislation, which Miller said could raise more than $800 million annually, puts on the table a politically toxic issue that Gov. Martin O'Malley and many leaders of the legislature had hoped to avoid during this relatively sleepy session of the General Assembly.
While O'Malley said that he favored slots on a "limited" basis, such as at racetracks, he has made it clear he sees no need to take on the issue this year. He met Wednesday with both Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and did not rule out the possibility of a special session to deal with fiscal issues.
"We will no doubt have to have that debate about revenues and the fact that some legislators want to have that debate now, and I'm open to that," he said.
Busch said that Miller's bill "doesn't really change the dynamic of the House," and emphasized that his side of the State House was focusing on issues such as health insurance coverage, public education and the environment. The House Ways and Means Committee has heard bills that would raise the sales tax, and other sales tax proposals, including a gas tax, have been introduced this session.
Busch has endorsed a $1-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax to fund health care and a "green fee" on development to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but has been adamant about his opposition to slot machines in Maryland. Delegate Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick, however, has introduced a slots bill which a House committee will hear next week.
When asked what the prognosis was in the House for slots, Busch responded by asking "What's the prognosis in the Senate?" and refrained from giving his reaction to Miller's proposal. "Whatever further debate the Senate is going to have is up to the Senate of Maryland," he said.