I've heard countless people wondering why there is such an urgent need for the Maryland General Assembly to go into special session to debate gambling in Maryland. The perception is that special interest money is driving this. To help bring more sunshine into the process, I sent the following letter to the Governor and to all members of the General Assembly urging them to disclose any contributions they've received from the gambling industry since the end of the regular session in April. Whether you are for or against expanded gambling, I hope we can all agree that these debates and discussions should be as open and as transparent as possible. Here is the letter, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter as well:
Dear Governor O’Malley, Senate President Miller, and Speaker Busch:
The Maryland General Assembly is poised to reconvene in Annapolis tomorrow for its second special session in less than three months, and the third in less than a year. The principal purpose is to pass legislation that would pave the way for a Las Vegas-style casino in Prince George’s County and table games at Maryland’s other gambling parlors.
As you finalize your own preparations for the special session, I would respectfully encourage you, as well as all members of the Maryland General Assembly, to voluntarily disclose all contributions from national gambling interests that have been received by all of your personal and affiliated committees from the date of their most recent reports.
This suggestion is based on my growing sense that Marylanders are questioning the timing of, and doubting the need for, yet another special session. Their doubts, which I share, are predicated on these points:
• Even if voters were to approve a new Prince George’s County casino this November, it will be several more years before that casino is built, open for business, and generating revenue for the State of Maryland. To this point, it is worth noting that nearly four years after the voters approved slots parlors at five locations, only three, to date, exist. As of June 30, those three had combined to generate about $200 million for the State of Maryland (source: http://slots.mdlottery.com/) – not nearly enough to cover the $267 million that we have spent to purchase and lease the slot machines for the casino operators.
In other words, there is little to no evidence that this precipitant action by the General Assembly will have any meaningful effect on the current fiscal challenges facing our state, from its lingering structural budget deficit to an unfunded state pension and retiree health care liability that is now estimated at $35 billion and growing.
• There is considerable cause for concern that approving a new casino in Prince George’s County – without the opportunity for scrutiny, professional analysis and debate that is afforded in a traditional session – will result in unintended consequences. For example, we cannot ignore the very real possibility that three casinos, located within an hour’s drive of one another, will cannibalize one another and jeopardize the viability of the state’s entire program.
Similarly, we simply cannot dismiss the fact that one of our state’s biggest and most powerful employers would be MGM Resorts, a company that, due to alleged ties to organized crime interests in China, failed to meet the State of New Jersey’s standards for corporate integrity. Given these unresolved questions, it is not unreasonable for taxpayers to ask why the state is circumventing the traditional legislative process.
• The mere act of convening a special session for the benefit of a single industry is highly irregular. As you know, this state is facing an extraordinary set of economic challenges. The State of Maryland lost 11,000 jobs in June. It was the third highest rate of job loss in the nation, and marked the fourth consecutive month of net job losses in Maryland. We rank 48th in the nation this year in both average private hourly and weekly earnings growth, and have actually experienced year-over-year declines in both categories.
The future of industries that have sustained this state through generations – from seafood harvesting and agriculture, to manufacturing and defense – have grown increasingly tenuous, as the recent closure of the Unilever plant in Hagerstown painfully reminded us. To my knowledge, at no point have we ever convened a special session to buttress those industries, as we are about to do for the national gambling industry.
In short, I believe there is mounting public suspicion that this latest special session is not about jobs, revenue or public reinvestment, but rather an illustration of the corrosive effects of special interest money in our political system. Such pervasive cynicism, left unaddressed, will further erode public confidence in our institutions of state government.
With this in mind, it is my hope that we can conduct this extraordinary special session in a true spirit of openness. Were this topic to be debated in a regular session, Marylanders would have the ability to scrutinize our campaign finance reports and draw their own conclusions. Given what is at stake over these next few days, I think they deserve that same opportunity now.
This voluntary gesture would send a powerful message to the people we serve that Maryland’s oft-stated commitment to progressive values is matched only by our dedication to transparent government. Regardless of how we may feel about this special session and the topic at hand, it would be a statement of values in which all Marylanders could take pride.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.