- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Maryland Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich wasted little time making clear that he'll do things very differently from his predecessor, particularly when it comes to crime. Mr. Ehrlich announced that he will lift the moratorium on executions imposed six months ago by Gov. Parris Glendening as soon as he takes office Jan. 15.

Twelve convicted murderers remain on death row at the Supermax prison in Baltimore. Four of the 12 have exhausted their appeals and could be executed as early as a month after Mr. Ehrlich is sworn into office. They are: Heath Burch, convicted of the 1995 murders of an elderly Prince George's County couple; Wesley Baker, who murdered a Baltimore County woman during a 1991 robbery in a mall parking lot; John Booth, who robbed and stabbed to death an elderly Baltimore couple in their home in 1983; and Steven Oken, who murdered three women during a November 1987 crime spree.

Instead of an arbitrary moratorium based on specious claims of racial bias, Mr. Ehrlich has quite properly decided that he will review each death penalty case on its individual merits and then decide whether to allow the execution to go forward. We venture to say that no single issue played as decisive a role in Mr. Ehrlich's victory than crime and, in particular, the conclusion reached by many Marylanders that Mr. Ehrlich would do a better job of handling the issue than Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Mr. Ehrlich's decision to lift the moratorium, imposed by Mr. Glendening at Mrs. Townsend's behest, is a strong indication that the voters made the right call.

Aside from crime, Mr. Ehrlich's most serious challenge will be the state's darkening fiscal picture, and efforts to maneuver him into supporting a tax increase instead of insisting on spending cuts to balance the budget. Newly released revenue estimates suggest that the state's budget deficit will increase to $2 billion through next year. Mr. Ehrlich has tried to work with Mr. Glendening on ways to reduce the deficit. But as recently as last week, Mr. Glendening (who spent this year's session of the General Assembly fighting to increase taxes) was issuing an executive order creating a new multi-billion-dollar program aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

This week, Mr. Glendening who flatly refused to identify spending cuts for months during this year's campaign season put forward a plan to reduce this year's deficit by roughly $500 million. The plan would drain $190 million from the state's rainy-day reserve fund, speed up collection of withholding taxes and make several hundred million in cuts from state agency budgets. It leaves the resolution of next year's budget problems to Mr. Ehrlich and the General Assembly.

Mr. Ehrlich remains committed to his campaign pledge not to raise income or sales taxes. But a state legislative commission issued a report last week, "Potential Items for Balancing the Fiscal 2004 General Fund Budget." While the report contains some spending cuts, it is heavily weighted toward tax increases. It lists "potential revenue items," which include increasing the personal and corporate income tax rates; repeal of the home-mortgage interest, charitable contributions and real property tax deductions; repealing sales tax deductions for food and health supplies; increased gasoline taxes; and higher taxes on tobacco and insurance premiums, to name only some of the tax increases being talked about in Annapolis.

The governor-elect is going to face intensified pressure to go along with higher taxes in the name of balancing the budget. Mr. Ehrlich will need to stand firm for spending cuts and against job-destroying tax increases that will worsen Maryland's budgetary woes in the long run.

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