Pictured above is a sign urging voters to pass a sports betting ballot question. (Ryan McFadden)
ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 4, 2020)—Marylanders faced two statewide ballot questions addressing Constitutional amendments this year—addressing the budget process and sports betting. Early returns indicate both are likely to pass.
Ballot Question 1 proposes a change to the state's budget process authorizing the General Assembly to increase the operating budget as long as the total amount does not exceed what the governor proposes.
It also authorizes the governor to use a line-item veto to reject individual legislative increases. The General Assembly would be authorized to override such vetoes, but if they are unable to, the funding level for that item would return to the amount proposed by the governor.
While some voters found the language of Question 1 to be a little complex, they found the intent to be clear.
Brian Folus, a 62-year-old retired public school music teacher in Harford County, said he voted "yes" on the budget amendment question because he felt there should be some "wiggle room" for the legislature to decide how public funds should be spent.
While that made sense to him, he felt the ballot language could have been clearer.
"Sometimes they don't seem to spell it out in very easy terms that we can understand," Folus, who is a registered Democrat, told Capital News Service on Wednesday.
But Eric Blitz, a Libertarian voter from Baltimore County, decided to vote against the measure based on his reading of it.
"My understanding is ballot Question 1 gives legislators more power over the budget," he said. "We're giving legislators more ability regardless of if it is a Democratic or Republican governor. I voted against it."
Donna Horgan, a registered Democrat, said she felt the difference between voter choices would not be in how well they understood the language of the question, but in how they felt about their legislative representative.
"If the public is satisfied with their representative in the General Assembly, then they will probably vote for it, I would say," said Horgan, a 65-year-old Cecil County voter who previously worked for former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, Charles and Calvert.
Jerry DeWolf, the chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee, which selected Delegate Brenda Thiam, R-Washington, as their representative and the first Black female Republican legislator, is hopeful this measure will not pass.
But if it does, he told Capital News Service Tuesday night, "I think it will mean higher taxes and less money in the average worker's pocket."
The positions of their state representatives also fell along party lines.
Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, voted against the proposed amendment telling her constituents in an Oct. 8 email, "The current system creates a check and a balance on the legislature's desire to centralize funding to the urban areas of Maryland."
Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, told Capital News Service on Oct. 13 he opposed the measure believing a change "would make the process more political."
However, Sen. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's and Anne Arundel, the bill's Senate sponsor, told Capital News Service this amendment "balances the budget responsibilities of the legislative and executive branches" and gives the people "a bigger voice" in how state funds are allocated.
On Tuesday night, with 16% of the precincts reporting in, the Associated Press, via NPR.org, reported 79% of Marylanders voted for the budget amendment with about 21% voting against.
House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, told Capital News Service on election night that if the measure passes it will be partly due to what he believed to be misleading language written by the Democratic legislative majority.
"People believed that voting for this measure will balance the budget," he said. "This is what voters told me at the polls. I believe this was dishonest and the Democratic majority should be ashamed of itself."
He said the measure should fail because, "whenever you have a check and balance over spending, I think that is a good thing."
Rosapepe said he felt a victory at the polls would be a "big victory for democracy," adding that each legislator represents a voice for their constituents.
"It will give people all over the state for the first time since 1916 a direct voice in the use of their tax dollars in the budget," he said. "It's a diverse state and this amendment gives a voice to the diverse constituencies in Maryland."
Ballot Question 2 concerns the expansion of commercial gaming in the state and, if approved, would authorize the General Assembly to pass a law for the issuance of licences for sports and event betting.
State revenues generated would likely then be used primarily to fund public education in the state.
If ballot Question 2 is approved, Maryland will join Washington, D.C., as well as its nearby states of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York in legalizing sports gambling.
"Currently, (Marylanders) are going to our neighboring states to engage in this activity, and our neighboring states are receiving shares of the betting pools," Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, said in an email. "So long as Maryland citizens are engaging in this activity, I think it makes sense for Maryland to derive the financial benefits that are a collateral product of sports betting."
Lawmakers are expected to discuss and vote on additional details like who should get sports wagering licenses after the Legislature convenes in January.
Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, and other lawmakers envision casinos and racetracks to be able to obtain sports wagering licenses, which could allow Marylanders to place bets on professional and college sporting events.
Zucker told Capital News Service that the Washington Football Team could obtain a sports betting license if owner, Daniel Snyder, keeps the organization in Maryland.
Kathy Dow-Burger, a Hyattsville, Maryland, resident, voted for the legalization of sports betting mainly because of education funding.
"I feel like if there's income coming into the state, the educational systems that are really hurting should be able to benefit from it too," said Dow-Burger.
According to Zucker, sports betting would generate between $20 million and $40 million per year that would likely go into public schools.
"It's a pretty non-political, non-partisan issue that both parties agree is good for the state of Maryland in terms of capturing that lost revenue especially during this global pandemic," Zucker said. "The economy has been hurt and sports betting would help fill in some of the holes that we've seen with education funding."
Jerry Darnell from Riverdale, Maryland, said he voted for ballot Question 2 because he thinks Marylanders should put money into the state instead of going to other states to place bets.
"I know a bunch of gamblers and they are going to other places to spend their money," Darnell, 69, said. "Spend it in Maryland."
The House of Delegates amended the Senate's original legislation to mandate a study on whether the state should "assist minorities and women in the sports and event wagering industry." This follows efforts to include more minority participation in the state's nascent medical marijuana industry.
"We need to put in provisions that would insure minority companies would be benefactors of wealth or being able to have one of these licenses or multiple licenses," said Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore. "That's the effort I'm going to be putting in when we go into the legislation session after this bill passes."
With 16% of the precincts reporting in, 69% of Marylanders voted for sports betting with 31% voting against, according to the Associated Press via NPR.org.