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Montgomery executive changes course, supports slots measure

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Local,Kathleen Miller
Montgomery County’s top elected official gave up 15 years of opposition to slots Thursday, announcing he will support a state ballot measure that would bring thousands of the machines to Maryland because he believes they will help budget problems.

County Executive Ike Leggett said in a written statement that he would vote for the measure “due to a lack of other viable options.” He said he worries that absent slots, the state would make budget cuts that would fall disproportionately on Montgomery County residents, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable. Maryland is facing a potential $1 billion budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, and Montgomery County’s top elected official gave up 15 years of opposition to slots Thursday, announcing he will support a state ballot measure that would bring thousands of the machines to Maryland because he believes they will help budget problems.


County Executive Ike Leggett said in a written statement that he would vote for the measure “due to a lack of other viable options.” He said he worries that absent slots, the state would make budget cuts that would fall disproportionately on Montgomery County residents, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable. Maryland is facing a potential $1 billion budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, and Montgomery County has an estimated $250 million shortfall of its own.

Leggett’s spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, acknowledged Leggett had met with slots opponent and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot earlier this week as he wrestled with the decision.

“Some have urged me to remain silent on this important issue,” Leggett said in his statement. “Others have suggested that I publicly oppose slots. Certainly, in Montgomery County, it would be politically advantageous to take either of these positions. Given what is at stake, this issue is too important not to take a stand.”

Scott Arceneaux, head of anti-slots group Marylanders United to Stop Slots, said Leggett had caved to political pressure — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been a driving force behind slots.

“I think all of it was pressure from the governor, Senator [Mike] Miller and the Annapolis insiders who want to pass slots,” Arceneaux said. “They’ve been making threats to county governments all over the state that if they don’t go along with them they will be the ones facing the chopping block.”

O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said he would “venture to guess” that O’Malley had spoken with Leggett about the measure.

“I can tell you [O’Malley] was hopeful [Leggett] would be in support of this referendum given the potential for education revenue that could go to Montgomery County,” Adamec said.

State legislators have told The Examiner that Maryland contributions to teacher pensions and the geographic cost of education index, which gives Montgomery extra money to help pay school costs in the pricey jurisdiction, are targeted for elimination.

Slots opponent Montgomery Councilman George Leventhal said it is misleading for Leggett to suggest slots will help current budget problems: “His statement references the deficit we’re dealing with in 2009, and they won’t have slots revenue then.”

kmiller@dcexaminer.com
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