- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s plans to cut $208 million from the fiscal 2004 budget have drawn surprisingly moderate initial reactions from prominent Democrats. As the state’s budgetary situation grew increasingly bleak earlier this year, Democrats — who control both houses of the legislature — condemned Mr. Ehrlich for vetoing their tax-increase legislation and characterized virtually any budget tightening as Republican callousness. But, in recent days, some of the reactions from the Democrats have been surprisingly responsible — even though the new round of cuts will result in layoffs (a modest 82 state employees) and will hit popular items like the state university system, community colleges and financial-aid programs.

“I support him because the [budget] shortfall in 2004 will carry over to 2005,” Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie said of Mr. Ehrlich. “This will help us with the deficit.” Mr. Currie, of Prince George’s County, noted that the $1 billion shortfall would have been lessened had his fellow Democrats backed the governor’s proposal to bring slot machines to Maryland race tracks.

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy Kopp both voted for the cuts. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, House Speaker Michael Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, who had relentlessly fought the governor over the budget, also acknowledged reality. “Everybody understands we have a budget crisis,” he said. “The governor was going to make these cuts either now or in January.”

Unfortunately, other Democrats remain intent on using the budgetary mess that Mr. Ehrlich inherited almost seven months ago to score some cheap political points. State Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett chose to play the class-struggle card, denouncing the governor for vetoing legislation to provide for $135 million in tax and fee increases. Mr. Ehrlich, he declared, “chose corporate contributors over the citizens of the state of Maryland.” (Never mind the fact that these corporations employ scores of men and women who pay taxes and would suffer if their companies are hurt by higher taxes.)

Still, Mr. Leggett was a model of decorum compared to Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan — whose 2006 gubernatorial hopes are fading along with the local economy. Mr. Duncan is looking for someone to blame for the budgetary woes being faced by one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. In a Democratic bastion like Montgomery County, that means railing against the Republican governor. “If you’re anti-transportation, and you’re anti-education, what good are you?” he complained. The most telling rebuttal to Mr. Duncan came from Mr. Schaefer — one of state’s senior Democrats — who said that, while he didn’t like the cuts, Mr. Ehrlich was dealt “a dirty hand.” Mr. Schaefer said the blame for the current fiscal mess lies with the spendthrift policies pursued by members of his own party: the Democrat-dominated General Assembly and former Gov. Parris Glendening.

Mr. Schaefer’s assessment is correct. Marylanders will be far better off if Democrats work with the governor, instead of continuing with their futile campaign to steamroll tax increases into law.

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