Baltimore becomes focal point in Annapolis

In the final hours of the General Assembly, the business interests of Baltimore have suddenly taken center stage as part of a multifaceted impasse surrounding the state budget.

Budget negotiations between the House of Delegates and Senate have apparently hit a snag at least in part because gambling legislation passed by the Senate has not received favorable action in the chamber across the hall.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, wants a “tourist destination” casino built at National Harbor. The legislation easily passed in the Senate, but the House Ways and Means committee has not decided what to do with the bill, which creates a sixth state slots license and also allows table games, like black jack, at all state casinos.

The Baltimore delegation in the House, which constitutes 18 votes, would not vote for the bill unless $2.5 million to fund the planning and design of a proposed expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center was added back to the capital budget. The money was eliminated by a joint House and Senate panel Saturday evening. The project also includes a new downtown arena and hotel.

The capital budget cannot achieve final passage in the legislature until an operating budget is passed.

The Baltimore delegation also wants to keep a Prince George’s casino from opening until a downtown Baltimore facility has been operating for three years. A slots license for the facility could be awarded by June.

Without the Baltimore delegation’s affirmative vote, the gambling expansion bill would be in serious danger of failing on the House floor, keeping it tied up in committee for the time being.

And, without agreement on a gambling expansion, a budget agreement is apparently unreachable.

At the moment, everything comes back to Baltimore.

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