AFSCME: Revenues and gaming expansion must be considered together

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By Patrick Moran

When the Maryland General Assembly first agreed to put the question of gaming to the voters in 2007, the action came as part of a special session called by Governor O’Malley to developer a broader revenue package for our state.

This spring, if lawmakers come back for a 2012 special session following the sine die collapse of a budget deal, it’s quite clear that an expansion of gaming is a crucial part of a long-term plan to put Maryland’s financial house in order.

All of us agree that the so-called “doomsday” budget currently in place is simply unacceptable for a state as wealthy and progressive as Maryland. None of us wants to see devastating cuts to K-12 and higher education, or reductions in aid to local jurisdictions for public safety and roads, or hundreds of layoffs of state and local government employees.

We are confident that, once everyone gets a chance to catch their breath, our legislative leaders and Governor O’Malley can quickly come together and sort through their differences to produce a smart package of new revenues.

The tax increases are unquestionably the key piece of the immediate solution. There’s a need in 2012 for an infusion of dollars into the budget right away. That’s what will come from the income tax adjustments that were part of the sine die budget deal.

What a gaming expansion offers is the opportunity to plan for long-term revenue growth. Approving an expansion of gaming through a sixth casino location in Prince George’s county and the addition of table games isn’t going to fix this coming year’s state budget. But approving the referendum now -- and putting it to the voters this November -- will fix the mistakes of the 2007 legislation and provide a crucial structure for future revenue growth.

First, the addition of table games will significantly enhance the quality of the gaming product offered at Maryland’s locations. Mayor Rawlings-Blake and other city tourism advocates have recognized this fact and argued quite persuasively that table games can boost Baltimore’s appeal to conventions and other out-of-town visitors seeking a top-line gaming experiences.

Second, a world class Prince George’s County location, as proposed by County Executive Baker for National Harbor, would create a new stream of revenue driven largely from out-of-state visitors to Washington D.C. and residents of states to our South that do not have legalized gaming. State and Prince George’s County budget analysts have projected more than $300 million in new state and local tax revenues once a Prince George’s casino were up and running. After years of states like West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania taking our residents’ money in their casinos and using it to pay for their schools and government services, Maryland would finally be in a position to do that to the residents and visitors of Washington D.C. and Virginia.

Finally, the economic activity and jobs associated with this gaming proposal are another key part of long-term revenue stability for Maryland. Construction of a world class Prince George’s resort casino would create up to 2,000 union jobs. A casino resort there would then create more than 5,000 union jobs, and table games would create a boost in jobs at all of Maryland’s gaming facilities. Thousands of new jobs mean thousands of additional people paying taxes to Maryland and local governments.

The Maryland General Assembly and Governor O’Malley came this close to approving a budget package of taxes and gaming that would have put our state on the right path for sustainable spending and revenues.

If they come back for a special session, whether it’s next week or next month, let’s make sure they follow through on a complete deal.

Without making gaming part of the budget deal, it’s not hard to imagine lawmakers being forced to come back with yet another round of tax increases in a couple of years. And do we really want that to happen again?

Patrick Moran is the director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Maryland.
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