- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants to reduce spending in his fiscal 2005 budget to resolve the budget shortfall left by the Glendening administration.

“Like any budget, there are cuts,” said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor. “Without the governor’s leadership, Maryland would be facing a $1 billion deficit.”

Among the biggest cuts is $3 million next year to a fund that pays for transporting students back and forth to public schools. The total cut would be $13.3 million over five years. Mr. Ehrlich also wants to reduce by $6.4 million a grant that sends special-education students to private schools. The total cut would be $60.6 million over five years.

The 2005 budget takes affect July 1.

The governor also wants to trim $30.6 million from 11 public school districts to recoup property-tax revenue lost because of the deregulation of electric utilities.

Local governments would lose a total $260 million in state money after the cuts. However, the administration says the cuts will be offset by an additional $326 million in aid to public schools.

Under Maryland law, General Assembly lawmakers can only delete items from the governor’s budget. They cannot add or move things around.

Mr. Ehrlich took office in January 2003 and inherited a nearly $1 billion shortfall from his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Democratic leaders have called for tax increases to plug the shortfall, but Mr. Ehrlich thinks that bringing slot-machine gambling to the state and spending-control measures can help close the gap.

He has proposed putting 15,500 slot machines at four state racetracks and two off-track sites to generate $700 million to $800 million in profit the first year.

The plan has met with opposition from the Democrat-controlled General Assembly since it was introduced last year.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said Mr. Ehrlich is scuttling social programs because he does not care about them.

“I don’t believe he has the constituency in it, so he is not afraid to make the cuts,” Mr. Busch said yesterday.

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery Democrat and vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, also is critical of the plan.

On Wednesday, he told James “Chip” DiPaula, the governor’s budget secretary, that he was concerned that the Ehrlich administration will not be able to raise an additional $16.7 million in Medicaid funds.

The Ehrlich administration has proposed increasing the license fees for nursing-home beds in hopes that the increase will be covered under the federal government’s complex Medicaid laws.

“Other states have tried it, but it hasn’t worked,” Mr. Hogan told Mr. DiPaula. “We see this as a $16.7 million hole in your budget.”

Mr. DiPaula acknowledged that the plan might not work but said state Health Secretary Nelson Sabatini is working toward a solution. He also said future cuts to local school budgets can be avoided if Democrats would stop blocking slot-machine gambling at racetracks.

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, agreed, saying Democrats have disregarded residents who “voted a man into office who said he would not raise taxes and that he would bring slot machines to the state.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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