Will casino legislation spring forward in Delaware this year?

DOVER — Some notes and quotes between headlines and deadlines…

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Welcome to spring in Delaware.

One minute we’re rejoicing in the sight of robins and daffodils.

From the Editor logo copy copyThe next, we’re fretting over a little snow in the forecast and unfriending Facebook friends that share old maps with monster snow predictions.

In recent years, we have come to recognize spring for its annual conflict about casinos in Legislative Hall.

On Friday, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon kicked off with a discussion of Senate Bill 183, which calls for changes to the state’s take of gaming revenues.

The casinos here have been under increased pressure from competition in neighboring states. An MGM casino near Washington will open soon, only adding to the worries.

Delaware’s three casinos have been in operation about 20 years. In the first year, the state’s take was about 23 percent. Over the years, lawmakers used the slot machines to grow revenues — seven times with various increases. By 2009, the state’s share was 43.5 percent.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, is the main sponsor. He related to the business crowd that the need to adjust the state/casino split is every bit as important to Delaware jobs as the support just provided to save the DuPont-turned-Dow jobs upstate.

In all, there are about 4,200 casino jobs in Delaware.

“I hate to say this, but I agree with Brian,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.

In a moment of levity, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, put a sports spin on it when comparing the sudden DuPont job losses to what could happen with the casinos.

“It’s very much the same way that I wish the Philadelphia Eagles had cut ties with Chip Kelly before the wheels had come off,” he joked.

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The chamber members got a handful of chuckles during the legislators’ remarks:

•Rep. Spiegelman related the loss of minimum wage jobs to what he sees daily. “How many of you have been to a Wawa or Royal Farms lately? Yea, gas station chicken, it’s awesome.”

The order computers, he pointed out cost about a tenth of what it cost to pay a minimum wage worker’s salary over the course of a year. And, he noted, they never call in sick.

•A not-so-well-known piece of legislation related to additional handicapped parking prompted some head scratching among the lawmakers.

Sen. Bushweller mused that in his retirement years, he might like to study the issue in more detail. “I would park myself in a big lot, near the handicapped spots. The game I would play is ‘guess the handicap.’ When the 20-something gets out in running shoes and jogging clothes and jogs toward the store, try to figure out what his handicap is.”

•Rep. Spiegelman related a story about another lawmaker calling him to pitch the gas tax. The plea, he said, did not relate to a need for more money for the Transportation Trust Fund. “He said, ‘It’s because gas prices are low.’ I paused for the minute and I think he thought I hung up on him.”

Rep. Spiegelman clunked himself on the head with the microphone for effect.

•The subject of a new property tax dedicated to water initiatives seemed like a well-teed ball for Sen. Bonini’s message.

He said it would likely end up like Delaware’s Transportation Trust Fund, which originally was dedicated to highway projects but ended up raided for salaries and other DelDOT operational costs.

“The short answer is don’t trust us with funds,” said Sen. Bonini.

In what has become an annual message of spring at the chamber luncheon, he added, “Delaware does not have a revenue problem.”

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Gov. Jack Markell’s appearance at the chamber event seemed more friendly this year.

After two years of taking heat for things like the gas tax and the water fees, he offered a big smile after his introduction. It was noted that he was in his final year in office.

“I noticed there wasn’t much applause,” he said. “I want to thank you for that,”

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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