By ELI SEGALL
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 26, 2008)—Republican lawmakers denounced the pending slots referendum Thursday, offering an alternate plan that might pump less money into the state's coffers and provide a smaller portion of revenues to education.
The state House GOP caucus, comprised of 37 members, proposed having slot machines at six sites throughout Maryland, and doling out licenses to operate them to the highest bidders. The proposal, which the lawmakers said would bring a spike in licensing fees, would allocate 46 percent of the government's slots revenues to education, compared to at least 50 percent under the referendum.
The new plan would still bring up to 15,000 slot machines to Maryland. Part of a broader spending package, the GOP proposal is projected to bring nearly $1.3 billion into the state by 2013, or $68 million less than the referendum.
The upcoming ballot item backed by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley goes before voters Nov. 4.
Del. Tony O'Donnell, the House minority leader, said he was not concerned that his party's plan is expected to bring in less money.
Under the proposal, he noted, the government's share of overall slots revenue can always increase through the bidding process. With the ballot item, the government will issue the operating licenses, and its share of the revenue is fixed at 33 percent.
In addition, the proposal, which would be voted on by the General Assembly, would not change the state constitution, whereas the referendum would.
"We feel this constitutional amendment is a bad deal for the citizens of Maryland," O'Donnell said at a press conference, on the first floor of the Lowe House Office Building.
The GOP proposal comes on the heels of a string of bad economic news. Officials recently slashed $432 million off the state's expected revenue stream, and the state, despite a series of tax hikes approved by the General Assembly last fall, faces a potential $1 billion deficit next fiscal year.
The caucus wasn't the only group to recently announce a stance on the controversial slots referendum. The Montgomery County Democratic Party formally denounced the ballot item Wednesday, less than a week after Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, also a Democrat, endorsed it.
Not every political group is taking a position. The Maryland Republican Party voted last week to neither endorse nor reject the referendum, even though some individual members, including party Chairman James Pelura III, oppose it.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.