By Hillary Pennington
If you haven't already heard, the Maryland General Assembly convened starting last Thursday for a second Special Session in 2012. The first, if you recall, was to raise income taxes on households making $150,000 a year combined, shift payment of pensions from the state to counties, and a whole schlew of other tax and fee increases. No big deal, right?
This session, however, carried a whole new level of back door deals, arm twisting, and political maneuvers. It actually played out more like a long and complicated game of Chess then a legislative session focused on what's best for struggling Maryland families.
Remember when we covered Sine Die, the last day of regular session, back in April. Well, both Special Sessions and the fallout thereof can be traced back to that fateful day. Three months later, the players seem to have gotten what they wanted. Busch got his tax increases, Miller his extra casino, and O'Malley...okay, maybe he didn't exactly get what he wanted, but he does come away with the notariety of being the governor who ordered two special sessions in one year. I bet that goes over well with his 2016 aspirations.
Special Session 2.0 ended late Tuesday night, and here's what came out of it.
- A sixth casino location in Prince Georges County, rumored to be a shoe-in for National Harbor, to go live in 2017.
- Table games at all six locations to start going in effect in 2014.
- Casinos can now be open 24 hours a day starting in 2013.
- Tax breaks for casino owners in all 6 locations (not available to other business owners in the state, might I add).
- Pitbulls are still singled out as a "dangerous breed." (more on that in a bit)
So let's explore the emergency of this situation. Why call a Special Session to deal specifically with gambling? Well, peeps, that's a really good question considering the new casino won't go live until 2017, not to mention the fact that two of our current locations still don't have buyers. The short answer? It all goes back to the game of chess and we, my friends, are the pawns.
Per our state constitution, any legislation dealing with gaming must go directly to referendum, a word we've all become familiar with over the last year or so through three successful ballot petition drives in this state, dealing with illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, and congressional redistricting. Basically, we get the final say in November, thumbs up or thumbs down.
So why not wait until regular session, which convenes between January and April of 2013? Well, then it would be on the ballot in 2014 and what happens in 2014? Every legislator in Maryland is up for reelection. Coincidence? I think not.
For the record, all of our local representation in Legislative District 12A and 10 voted for the gaming bill, with the exception of Delegate Burns (D-10) who abstained from voting. You can see who voted and how here.
But it does beg the question, with so many ballot intiatives, many of which are very emotional in nature, how will this bill fare in the hands of the people? Is it fiscally responsible to add a sixth casiono location when you haven't even filled two of the other five. And for that matter, since Maryland Live opened earlier this summer, the Hollywood Casino in Perryville has reported a 40 percent loss in revenue (which considering that Maryland gets a whopping 66 percent of that) Doesn't that mean a net loss for the state as well?
Can Maryland really sustain six locations? Heck, can we even sustain three? Or are we overestimating just how thirtsy people are for a little poker and a few slot machines?
Real quick, I have to tell this story. I was speaking with a local Catonsvillian about this very topic. She had recently taken her entire family to Maryland Live. They normally would head over to West Virginia, but they thought they'd give it a shot. Literally, they lost $100 in about five minutes. Because the machines are automated, you don't just put in a quarter and pull the lever for hours on end. $5 can be gone in 5 seconds. Plus, she said, the drinks were overpriced and the food was good but expensive. All in all, she said she's going back to West Virginia where the drinks are free and her money goes much farther. Can we really compete?
I'm not a gambler. Not necessarily for moral reasons, just don't care for it. As a political consultant, I take enough risks everyday. But I do ask the question, was it worth it? Was it worth the $150,000 of taxpayer money to throw this little shindig down in Annapolis, to push through this legislation that won't even go into effect for several years?
Well, I guess that's up to you and you get to be the deciding factor on November 6th. And it's not just about gambling. That's a symptom of a much bigger problem here in Maryland.
Our legislators are literally out of control. I think it's time to send a message, not just to Maryland, but also to Washington. Don't vote a party line this time around. Vote for a person. Get to know the candidates running for Congress and Senate in this state. Let's not keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again and finding ourselves in these ridculous situations like special sessions to raise taxes and revenue on the people of Maryland when we're all struggling to get by everyday.
Pitbulls: The Pitbull Task Force (yes, it does exist) put forth a bill during Special Session 2.0 that would extend strict liability to all breeds instead of singling out Pitbulls. This bi-partisan group of legislators actually worked well together to come up with a solution that would be appealing to both sides. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this time around, but I've been told that it will come up again in regular session and next time, they'll make sure it passes. The legislation is in reaction to a High Court's ruling that Pitbulls are "inherently dangerous."
According to this article, Pitbulls are among the most dangerous breeds, but they are not alone. What do you think? Should they be targeted? Or should these liability laws apply to any dog that mauls, mames, or kills are individual?
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