ANNAPOLIS – A Senate committee Friday approved changes to Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s video slot machines bill to give public schools a bigger slice of the revenue.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee amended Ehrlich’s bill to raise the proportion of slots proceeds to go to education from 46 percent to 52 percent. The machines would yield an estimated $837 million for improving Maryland’s aging public schools after they’re all installed. That could take as many as five years.
Most of the money — $687 million — would go to paying for the Thornton public schools reform plan, including the so-far unfunded Geographic Cost of Education Index, which helps reimburse districts with higher operating costs.
The amended bill requires the governor to place $150 million in cash into public school construction each year from 2007 through 2014. A task force last year concluded Maryland schools need $3.85 billion — $2 billion of which should come from the state.
Paying for the education index would become mandatory. The Attorney General previously ruled it optional.
The changes could make slots more appealing to the House of Delegates. Bills to legalize slots in Maryland have died in the House Ways and Means Committee in the last two years.
Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, is a Ways and Means Committee member. He said he is “open-minded” to the amended slots bill.
“The changing percentages (in education funding) certainly make it more palatable,” he said. But he added he wasn’t sure they would make it “palatable enough” for House committee approval.
The $687 million for education does not include an additional $93 million in total revenue from licensing fees for the 15,500 machines to be allowed in Maryland.
The committee approved an amendment to reduce the maximum share of proceeds licensed venues can keep. Racetracks with licensed slots would keep no more than 36 percent; nonracetrack sites would get no more than 30 percent.
Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, said the proposed share going to licensees is among the lowest among states that allow slot machine gambling. But he said it would not discourage owners of prospective venues from signing up because Maryland is a good market for gambling.
One more nonracetrack venue could apply for a license than the original bill had allowed, for a total of seven venues at racetracks and nonracetracks.
The original bill specified the number of slot machines six potential sites could get. The amended bill leaves that up to a new nine-member commission. The governor would appoint five members; the House speaker and the Senate president would each appoint two.
The commission will oversee competitive bidding for issuing licenses. Prospective venues would have to pay at least $3 million for every 500 machines licensed. The ambiguity of who gets what is intended to maximize the amount of money the state gets from licensing fees, Hogan said.
The Senate is expected to debate the bill next week. It would take effect in July if it’s signed into law.