Republicans hoping budget proves gumption

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OCEAN CITY — An alternative budget proposal released this week was the first in a series of counter campaigns on issues that will include public safety, the environment and economic development, state Republican leaders say.

The alternative policy proposals are part of a broader effort by the House Republican Caucus to distinguish itself from the Democratic majority and show that Republicans are doing more than just criticizing the party in power.

“I think Marylanders will someday say, ‘Yeah, there is an alternative, and yeah, maybe we should create a balanced system,’ ” said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell. Mr. O'Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, likened the new initiative to a “government-in-waiting.”

Senate Republicans said they support the new strategy from their House colleagues.

“I think you need to demonstrate that you’re responsible and that you’re not just throwing bombs,” said Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican. “We also want to demonstrate that there are other alternatives.”

Republicans lost the governor’s office in November when former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was defeated by Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. Republicans also lost six seats in the House of Delegates, whittling their caucus to 37 members in the 141-member body.

In developing the budget proposal, which was announced Wednesday, the caucus met three times in retreats during the summer, and consulted with representatives of think tanks and state budget analysts. The proposal calls for closing the structural deficit through a mix of revenue from legalized slot machines and limiting new spending.

Mr. O'Donnell and House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican, met with Mr. O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, before introducing their budget plan publicly.

“At least there’s a flow of communication and a flow of ideas, which can at least be beneficial,” Mr. Busch said. “We’ll see where it takes us, though. I’m not going to make any judgment after one meeting.”

Republican leaders say they expect to follow a similar process in developing their future policy proposals.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat and former delegate, compared the alternative policy proposals to a “shadow government.”

Mrs. Kopp, who served on the House budget committee for 27 years before becoming treasurer, said that many Republicans worked closely with Senate Democrats under the Democratic administration of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, but that Republicans had a hard time uniting.

“One of the problems the Republicans had in the past is that they were not united on certain issues,” Mrs. Kopp said. “If they are now, I think that makes a significant difference.”

But Mr. O’Malley, who submits the state budget to the General Assembly each January, is reserving his opinions for now.

“The governor has shown a willingness to work with Republican leadership,” said Mr. O'Malley’s spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese. “If they want to be relevant, this is the more appropriate way.”

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