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budget crisis

The State of the Slots Debate

by: Eric Luedtke

Sun Sep 14, 2008 at 09:38 AM EDT

The Sun has a good piece on the slots debate heating up. We had a long lull, but now that we're past Labor Day things are going to be moving pretty quickly. The most interesting part of the article, for me, was this:

"I'm a proponent in a major, active way," O'Malley said during a radio appearance last week, explaining his stance on slots. But he added: "I will not demagogue on it. I don't believe, as some have said in the past, that the only way to fund essential government services is through gambling. I don't subscribe to that."But O'Malley, whose job approval rating bounced from a low of 37 percent in March to 45 percent this month in the Gonzales poll, faces a dilemma over whether to become the face of the pro-slots movement.

If the slots measure loses, the failure could be seen as a midterm election loss.

Slots are a lot more popular among Republicans than among Democrats and Independents. In other words, the referendum could easily become an albatross around O'Malley's neck, both in a primary and in a general, the former because angry Democratic voters could revolt and the latter because they could decide that volunteering isn't worth it, handing the race to a Republican Party on the positive end of an enthusiasm gap.

One very smart politician I talk to once told me that he thinks of the Democratic base in Maryland in terms of three groups:

- Dedicated Democrats: white middle to upper class dems mostly west of 95

- Demographic Democrats: black and latino voters, concentrated in Prince George's County, Baltimore City, and a strip of eastern Montgomery

- Dundalk Democrats: white working class voters mostly east of 95

According to his theory, O'Malley feels confident about the first two groups. He doesn't think middle and upper class progressives or the black communities will ever leave the party, so he focuses on the Dundalk Democrats. According to my politician firned: "We are now living under the Dundalk principle. We can only do things that play in Dundalk."

Unfortunately for O'Malley, this is a pretty myopic view. You've got to keep all portions of the base happy, and slots is an issue that deeply divides them. And what's more, on slots, O'Malley is on the wrong side of the enthusiasm gap. It's exactly those dedicated dems, many of them staunchly progressive, and the black church-going voters who most hate the idea of bringing gambling parlors to Maryland. And they're a lot more passionate about the issue than those who like the idea of slots.  

On the other hand, O'Malley's pretty strongly associated with slots. So perhaps ratcheting up that association won't really change much in voters minds. How do I know? If you looked closely at the cross-tabs from the Gonzales Poll, you saw something really interesting. Both Democrats (48-44) and Republicans (53-38) support the referendum, but Independents oppose it by a 14% margin. There are only two reasons I can think of the Damocrats support it despite the more reasoned and reasonable opposition of independents - either the fear-mongering about service cuts has worked or, more likely from my perspective, there are a lot of Democrats who don't feel strongly either way and are simply following O'Malley's leadership. So not only do I think O'Malley is tied to this thing, but I think his association with it is the major thing keeping the referendum afloat right now.

But, form a purely political perspective, there are really four options here for O'Malley at this point:

A. O'Malley supports slots more strongly, and they pass, in which case he gets slots but has still alienated big chunks of his base.

B. O'Malley supports slots more strongly, and they fail, in which case he both alienates his base and looks ineffective.

C. O'Malley backs off on slots, and they fail, in which case the base isn't so annoyed at him but Mike Miller and pro-slots Democrats are.

D. O'Malley backs off on slots, and they pass, in which case Mike Miller may still be annoyed at him, but the base is happier and pro-slots Dems got what they wanted anyway.

I guess you could also make a couple options for whether O'Malley gets the lion's share of blame for the referendum's passage or failure. But that's getting a little complex for a Sunday morning. As to the four options above, though, it seems to me like a fairly obvious choice. Backing off the issue some reduces the political risks considerably. But, then, I'm biased. 

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Miller, Franchot at Each Other's Throats

by: Eric Luedtke

Sat Sep 13, 2008 at 07:08 AM EDT

 If this were a couple hundred years ago, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Senate President Mike Miller would be meeting some dark night on the Bladensburg dueling grounds. The spat between Miller and Franchot has reached a new, childish low, as the've exchanged a pair of nasty letters. Miller accused Franchot of rank amateurism and of arguing against things now that he has supported in the past. Franchot , for his part, responded to Miller by attacking the fact that he attacked Franchot, and, as the Sun's Jay Hancock points out, used the ancient method of paralipsis - 'I could attack you too for being such a jerk, but I won't' - so that he gets hits digs in on Miller but gets credit for not attacking him.

Fact is, they're both preening for the press, and neither of them is accomplishing anything really useful for the state. It makes you wish there was an adult in Annapolis that could send them to separate corners. Or that they'd just have a fistfight on Lawyer's Mall and get it over with.

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First Up in New Round of Budget Cuts: Transportation

by: Eric Luedtke

Thu Sep 11, 2008 at 06:52 PM EDT

The first round of serious cuts in the budget following the new budget numbers are coming in transportation funding. Not to be melodramatic, but this is only the beginning. Before this is over, a lot more than a few intersection improvements will probably end up on the chopping block.
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Senate Budget Committee in Holding Pattern as Currie Investigation Continues

by: Eric Luedtke

Tue Jul 22, 2008 at 02:22 PM EDT

As the investigation into Senator Ulysses Currie continues, it seems the distraction may be delaying work by the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. At this point in the year, the Budget and Tax Committee normally begins a series of meetings every couple weeks with the goal of preparing for the next session of the General Assembly. This work is even more important given the current recession, when the state budget is in a precarious position and a rejection of the slots referendum this fall would result in some serious scrambling.

As one would expect, Senator Currie seems to have been spending a lot of his time dealing with the investigation into his previously unreported financial relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse. But he has not yet sent out to members of the committee their schedule of meetings for the summer and fall. Nor has the committee begun the necessary behind the scenes discussions of contingency plans if the slots referendum fails or of how to deal with the increasingly thorny issue of transportation funding, unless those discussion are happening in a very close circle.

The Currie scandal is bad enough on its own. But if it ends up contributing to confusion around the state budget, it could be a disaster for the state. At the very least, Senator Currie needs to temporarily recuse himself from the chairmanship of the committee, allowing Vice Chair Ed Kasemeyer (this is a correction - I read the wikipedia list of Senators wrong) or some other temporary appointee to run it until his name is cleared or he resigns. The work of the Budget and Tax Committee is too important to sit in limbo.

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