By JENN BOGDAN
Franchot is "just a tax collector...not a policy maker," says Mike Miller
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 24, 2008)—Annapolis resident Gerald Loren demanded Wednesday that Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. explain how slots would benefit Marylanders when out-of-state companies would pocket a substantial portion of the revenue for themselves.
That was just one of many tough questions Miller, D-Calvert, and a slots supporter, faced at a debate against Anne Arundel County Councilman Josh Cohen, a Democratic slots opponent, at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Branch Library.
If it passes in November, the referendum would bring 15,000 slot machines to five locations throughout Maryland. One of the proposed locations is Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County.
Miller primarily argued that Marylanders should support slots because residents are already gambling outside of the state, contributing revenue to other governments, while Maryland currently has a $1.7 billion deficit.
"It's not the greatest idea in the world. It's not the means of funding all government," said Miller. "But Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are spending our money."
Miller said he never would have supported the legislation years ago, but with the looming deficit Maryland now either has to legalize slots or face significant tax increases.
Cohen made a moral argument against slots, calling them the "crack cocaine of gambling" and discussing the danger they pose to the finances of working class families, a comment which drew boisterous applause.
"It's just poor public policy for the state of Maryland to be seeking to balance its budget when the majority of slots revenues are coming from those families who can?t just afford it," said Cohen.
In the packed room of 80 attendants the toughest questions came from the audience rather than the debaters. One man asked the room for a show of hands as to which side attendants were on. An overwhelming majority was against the referendum.
Attendants fired the majority of questions, often hostile in tone, at Miller. Some wanted to know what would stop other forms of gambling from coming to the state, while others wanted to know if slots in other states have brought on an increase in crime.
"I'm not sure it's going to lead to prostitution and organized crime. I hope we're not going to have whorehouses in Laurel," said Miller, jokingly disputing one man's concern about crime rates increasing because of slots.
Thursday, the House Republican Caucus is scheduled to hold a press conference to discuss its stance on slots and the state's finances. Miller said he expects the Republican Party to oppose the referendum and sees it as a personal attack against Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"It doesn't matter if they [Republicans] voted for them when [Gov.] Bob Erlich was there, but they're going to come out against it so they embarrass this governor and force him to cut the budget," said Miller.
Miller also had some choice words for Comptroller Peter Franchot, a staunch opponent of slots, after the debate.
"Well he [Franchot] is a tax collector. As soon as he realizes that he's just a tax collector—he's not a policy maker—the better off the state's going to be," said Miller.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.