Maryland's budget crisis: Online gambling proposed to tackle education and transportation costs

During the budget showdown at the Maryland General Assembly, the leading House officials unveiled a $1.3 billion proposal to generate new state revenues to cover future education and transportation expenses. However, Senate leaders argue that the plan is excessive for the current economic conditions and not suitable at this time.

The House's revenue plan involves raising taxes, fees, and tolls and legalizing internet gambling to allow online casino games. House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat from Baltimore County, began a news conference with fellow Democrats who lead the chamber by stating, "We can't keep relying on temporary solutions. Using quick fixes will only put us in the same situation next year," Jones remarked. "We know what needs to be done now, and it's time we face it. The solution lies in generating revenue."

The plan aims to address the increasing expenses associated with the state's K-12 education funding initiative, commonly referred to as the Blueprint for Maryland's Future. This blueprint, sanctioned in 2020, gradually allocates more funds to enhance early childhood education, raise teacher salaries, and offer assistance to underperforming schools.

Although the Senate-approved budget fully supports the blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year, the state still grapples with addressing escalating costs in subsequent years.

House Proposal: Gambling & Toll Hikes

The House proposal seeks to address this issue by generating revenue through internet gambling. However, expanding gambling would necessitate a constitutional amendment, requiring a three-fifths vote in both chambers and approval by voters in November. Additionally, corporate tax reform is proposed as part of the plan to contribute to funding the blueprint.

The plan also includes increasing toll revenues. According to Del. Marc Korman, a Montgomery County Democrat and chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, tolls haven't increased in a decade and were even reduced for political reasons during the previous administration.

However, neither the Senate nor the governor has shown support for the House's proposal so far. The $63 billion spending plan submitted by the governor and endorsed by the Senate on Thursday night ensures a balanced budget, with a substantial rainy day fund remaining.

Senators and their Statements

Governor Wes Moore, a Democrat, who presented his budget plan in January without proposing tax increases, remains cautious about endorsing them at this time.

"Any talks regarding taxes in the General Assembly will require a rigorous standard for the governor, prioritizing financially responsible methods to foster growth in Maryland's economy," commented Carter Elliott, the governor's spokesperson.

However, Del. Ben Barnes, who leads the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concerns about the sustainability of the state's current budget in meeting the priorities outlined by the governor, Senate, and House.

"On behalf of the hardworking Marylanders grappling with persistent inflation, we're committed to ensuring you don't face added financial strain,"

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore

"We are facing significant challenges. The deficits in our Transportation Trust Fund are unsustainable, so we believe we have met this challenge," stated Barnes, a Democrat from Prince George's County.

Before the General Assembly adjourns on April 8 at midnight, any revisions made by the House to the state's budget legislation for the upcoming fiscal year must be reconciled with the Senate.

Both chambers seem to be nearing agreement on several proposals aimed at generating additional revenue to support the escalating costs of the state's medical trauma system. They are moving forward with measures to raise revenue from vehicle registration fees that fund emergency services. Additionally, the House and Senate are progressing bills to impose taxes on firearms and ammunition to support emergency services for gunshot victims.

Maryland House eyes iGaming legalization to boost tax revenue for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future budget, but faces constitutional hurdles and concerns about its impact on the economy. Proposals include corporate tax hikes, adjustments to vehicle taxes and fees, and toll increases to address transportation funding challenges. Discussions continue until April 8.