The legislators from District 15, which makes up a substantial portion of Potomac, are hardy people. In spite of dire warnings of a Saturday snowstorm, all four came out to a town hall meeting at the Potomac Community Library.
The group, including Sen. Rob Garagiola (D) and Delegates Jean Cryor (R), Kathleen Dumais (D), and Brian Feldman (D), was there to answer questions about a variety of state issues, but only two really came up – the budget and slot machines.
“Everything is on the table,” said Garagiola. He used a chalkboard to illustrate the state’s problem. Maryland faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. While the four had similar outlooks about what should be done, the legislators were united on one thing – there isn’t one solution to the problem and people probably aren’t going to like what will be done.
“Many of the programs that will have to be cut are really good programs,” Dumais said.
“Do we cut our services – which means education, or do we raise taxes,” Cryor said. She explained that because of the state’s budgeting process, the only service that can be cut enough to make a difference in the budget is education.
There are an assortment of policies that will be necessary to plug the budget hole – the most controversial is the proposal to put slot machines at four race tracks in the state. The slots are expected to generate $400 million in the next fiscal year.
Of the four, only Cryor is leaning toward allowing the slot machines. Cryor is also the only Republican, and the slots proposal is championed by Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich. Cryor says she doesn’t see another way to close the budget gap.
“If we don’t put in the slots, then where do we come up with that money,” Cryor said. Several residents suggested cutting government bureaucracy, and while Cryor is in favor of that she’s not sure how much more can be cut without damaging the level of service Marylanders have come to expect. “There’s as much water in the soup as you can put in there,” Cryor said.
Dumais, is leaning toward opposing the machines, while Garagiola and Feldman have not staked out a position. “Because we’re strapped for cash, we may sign up for something we’re going to regret. If you pass legislation that is not properly thought through you may exacerbate the situation,” Feldman said.
Feldman is concerned that the slot machine proposals may have a snowball effect. “Initially it’s about slot machines at racetracks,” Feldman said. According to him, once gambling gets a substantial foothold in a state, it becomes the state’s most powerful lobby. He believes that the pressure to expand the program may become too great for lawmakers to ignore. “I want to be sure the assumptions we’re making are accurate,” Feldman said.