By DYLAN WAUGH
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 24, 2009)—Lawmakers promoted bills Tuesday intended to ensure slots proceeds designated for education spending will supplement, instead of replace, money already earmarked for education in the state's budget.
Delegates told the House Ways and Means committee that under the current slots legislation the state could use education money already in the budget for other expenses once the slots money rolls in.
"When you read it (current legislation), it looks like it could be swapping funds," said Delegate Herman Taylor Jr., D-Montgomery.
Taylor and Delegate Curtis Anderson, D-Baltimore, presented similar bills to the committee. Taylor called the measure a "technical language change," and Anderson said the change is needed to protect education, which he called the major reason why many people voted to approve slots in a November referendum.
"When people voted in November they all came and voted for the fact that this was money that was going to go to education," Anderson said in an interview. "All this bill does is say funds from slots that go to the education fund would be in addition to whatever money we spend."
"I think this bill helps keep that promise," Taylor said.
Almost half of the slots proceeds will go to the Education Trust Fund, which supports public schools and school construction for K-12 and higher education facilities.
The measure is especially crucial in the midst of the state's current economic woes, Anderson said.
"There is so much temptation to reach into other budgets," Anderson said. "We need to hold education sacrosanct."
Anderson pointed to the implementation of the state lottery, arguing that constituents often ask him why lottery proceeds don't always benefit education.
"I don't want to have to answer the same question with regard to slots money," Anderson said.
The state Department of Budget and Management opposed both bills in written testimony.
Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, promised to look into the merits of the bills, but seemed confident that the current legislation was sufficiently clear.
"I'm sure it's (the funding) going to be watched very carefully," Hixson said.
Slots are expected to bring in only half of the $660 million annually for schools the state had hoped for starting in the 2013 fiscal year. Developers have only requested 6,550 of the 15,000 available slot machines, and the financial projection could decrease if some of those bids are rejected.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.