Friday, July 27, 2012

Gov. Martin O'Malley Announces Special Session for Aug. 9 // MoCo Leaders Held Heated Meeting to Debate Gambling

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun last night reported that casino company MGM is no longer pursuing a tax cut for Maryland slot machines. The company is hoping to build a casino at Prince George's County's National Harbor, but had insisted that Maryland's 67% tax on slot machine revenue be lowered. Maryland lawmakers were then barraged with direct mail and calls from constituents complaining about lowering taxes on casino owners while ordinary residents were facing a tax increase. See an excerpt from The Baltimore Sun report below:
BALTIMORE SUN: The chief executive officer of MGM Resorts International, which wants to open a luxury casino at National Harbor, said Thursday that his company has dropped efforts to win tax breaks from the Maryland General Assembly to build a gambling palace at the Prince George's County site....

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Murren conceded the line of attack has resonated. "It has played very well," Murren said. "'Why give tax breaks to billionaire casino guys when you've raised my taxes?'"

SPECIAL GAMBLING SESSION AUGUST 9TH: Earlier this week, Maryland Juice broke news that the state legislators could expect to return to Annapolis for a special legislative session to debate gambling expansion. This morning, several Twitter users confirmed that Gov. Martin O'Malley announced that he would call the legislature back to work on August 9th. See the photo and Tweet from Maryland politico P. Kenneth Burns below:

THE BACKSTORY // SPEAKER BUSCH ADVISED AGAINST SESSION & WON'T WHIP VOTES: A source who is familiar with the discussions tells Maryland Juice that House Speaker Mike Busch advised against holding a gambling session. Gov O'Malley, on the other hand wanted a sense of finality to the debate and insisted on proceeding. As a result, I am told that Busch does not plan on whipping votes or making deals, and that those legislators and County delegations that seek to horsetrade for gambling votes will have to deal directly with Gov. O'Malley's office.

O'MALLEY RELEASES VIDEO EXPLANATION FOR GAMBLING SESSION: Elements of our source's backstory are confirmed in a new video that Gov. O'Malley released today. In the statement below, he notes that "this issue has always been a divisive one" but that he wants to "put this issue behind us." The Governor has not yet released a draft gambling expansion bill, but he did state the compromise would "protect local city and county aid being generated at current sites." This likely means that some significant portion of the $320 million Baltimore officials were rumored to seek has been protected in the deal struck by legislative leaders. See O'Malley's statement below:

MOCO POLITICAL LEADERS HELD CONTENTIOUS MEETING TO DEBATE GAMBLING: Meanwhile, sources tell Maryland Juice that yesterday several Montgomery County officials met to debate what the County delegation should seek in terms of transportation funding in exchange for their votes on gambling. A meeting was held between Council President Roger Berliner, Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, County Executive Ike Leggett, Senator Rich Madaleno, and Delegates Brian Feldman, Kathleen Dumais, and Sheila Hixson. MoCo's legislative lobbyist Melanie Wenger was also in attendance, while Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Anne Kaiser participated by phone.

We are being told that the discussion was very contentious and continued the long-standing history of finger-pointing between County officials and the MoCo state legislative delegation. Some legislative leaders saw their role as representing Maryland and not Montgomery County and therefore saw no need for MoCo to gain any additional funding during the gambling special session. Others understood that this was a rare moment for MoCo to leverage the fact that it is the largest legislative delegation.

Notably, numerous sources believe that the votes are not in place to pass any plan. The fact that Speaker Busch is sitting on his hands and won't whip votes makes it very likely that MoCo's delegation will be decisive on the gambling vote. Given that some believe MoCo has been getting shafted in Annapolis on pension shifts, transportation funding, and more, this is a unique opportunity for the Delegation to hang together and withhold their votes until something meaningful is proposed (ie: transit funding for the Purple Line, CCT, or other critical infrastructure projects). At last check, it was alleged that Annapolis leaders were willing to trade the County's votes for a trickle of additional funding for MoCo's Ride On bus system. Others, however, deny those claims and insist that MoCo will receive a fair share of future revenues. Either way, it appears that pressure may be growing for legislators to hold out for a much, much larger ask.

More on the Maryland gambling debate soon!

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