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Maryland Voters To Decide On Sports Betting, Budget Powers

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland voters are deciding two statewide ballot questions with significant financial ramifications for future years, including whether to allow sports betting and if the legislature should have more power over the state budget.

State lawmakers decided this year to ask voters whether they want to allow gambling on sporting events. Details such as where sports betting would be allowed will be decided later.

It's unclear how much money sports wagering would raise for the state. Estimates based on what other states have raised indicate it would generate a total of roughly $36.5 million in the next fiscal year. If a 20% tax were applied, the state would get about $7.3 million, according to a state analysis.

However, if the state were to allow sports betting online as well as at Maryland casinos and horse racing tracks, state analysts estimate gross revenues could increase by $91 million in the next fiscal year. That would enable the state's portion to rise to about $18 million.

Supporters point out neighboring states already have legalized sports betting at venues that compete with Maryland casinos. They also stress that approving the ballot question would enable the state to regulate gambling activity already occurring in Maryland, while also helping to address budget problems.

"Approval of this constitutional amendment would allow the state to regulate this activity while also providing funding support to public schools," House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said in an email urging voters to support the ballot question.

Republicans say if voters approve, greater steps should be taken to ensure the money goes toward increasing education funding.

"The way they present this is that the money is going to go into education, and our main response is if this passes we're going to hold their feet to the fire to make sure it goes to increase spending for education," said Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican recently elected Senate minority leader.

Another ballot question with fiscal impact centers on the balance of power in Maryland state government.

Under Maryland's constitution, the governor has unusually strong budget powers. When the governor submits the state budget to the General Assembly each January, lawmakers can only cut from the proposal.
Maryland is the only state that endows its governor with such authority over the state budget. It dates to a 1916 constitutional amendment that voters approved after the state racked up big deficits.

The constitutional amendment before voters would enable the legislature to increase, decrease or add items to the budget, as long as the changes don't exceed the total proposed by the governor.

Supporters note the proposed amendment would not affect the requirement for the state to have a balanced budget every year. The governor also would have the ability to line-item veto portions of the budget, subject to an override by the legislature.

Democrats have maintained control of the Maryland General Assembly for about 100 years, but have held the governor's office for only half of the last 20 years.

"Passage of Question 1 is a good government reform to ensure that a co-equal branch of government is truly co-equal," Jones and Ferguson wrote in the email to supporters. "Frankly, most Marylanders probably already assume the legislature has this power."

But Republicans oppose the amendment. Del. Nic Kipke, who is the minority leader in the House of Delegates from Anne Arundel County, said changing the state's constitution would steer more budget power to lawmakers who answer only to voters in their own districts.

"Currently, Maryland's political climate is such that it's dominated by legislators from primarily the center of the state, where the governor is elected statewide," Kipke said. "And I think that having the governor able to look at things from a statewide perspective is helpful to make sure that all of Maryland's priorities are being fulfilled."

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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