The Maryland Public Policy Institute
August is not the time for major legislation. It is when people are at the beach, visiting family and generally not paying attention to things outside of their grill and cooler. It is when harrowed moms and dads who both must work in most cases take a little time off before the chaos of school begins again in September.
That is why scheduling a special session in August of one of the hottest summers on record is as responsible as giving a 16-year-old boy a motorcycle.
If it were an emergency it would be one thing, as a special session can be called by the governor in "extraordinary" circumstances. (The concept was conceived when the General Assembly met once every two years.) But this special session was not called for an emergency. Expanding gambling barely received any attention relatively speaking during the regular 90-day session earlier this year. Raising taxes and fees and same-sex marriage dominated legislative debate.
And while the state is headed for a fiscal meltdown in coming years if it does not reform pension, health care and education spending, it is not going bankrupt in the next few months.
The only thing out of the ordinary in the state was the announcement by MGM Resorts International on June 15 that the company wanted to build a casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County provided taxes on gambling were reduced.
"We could not do it under the current law," said James J. Murren, the MGM chairman and CEO, of plans to put about $600 million into a development near Washington, along with $200 million from the Peterson Cos.
All of a sudden, a faint beat to add table games and lower the state's tax rate on gaming profits became a cacophony overnight, with supporters blitzing the airwaves with ads declaring a casino at National Harbor would put thousands of Marylanders to work and save schools. With the national economy faltering and unemployment rising in the state, voila! An emergency was manufactured whose solution could be found at the Mecca of National Harbor. No matter that two of the original five locations slated for slots were not operational, a third had just opened at the beginning of June, and revenue was faltering at two.
So, the state conversation turned from how the rich must pay their "fair share" during the regular session to how legislators can make it easy for one international conglomerate to make more money. Call it crony capitalism disguised in populist clothes.
Of course, no one except an elite few in the majority party knew the terms of the bill being circulated until it was already a done deal. Thankfully, it must go to the people for final approval in November because of the way gambling was first passed.
But it set a horrible precedent to pass major legislation in the equivalent of the thick of night. If jobs that won't be created until 2016 are an emergency, what else will be rammed through in special session without public debate and without scrutiny of those who benefit?