- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Pledging to make Maryland's state government live within its means, Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Friday presented the General Assembly with a balanced budget that begins the long, difficult process of moving the state in a more fiscally responsible direction.
The Ehrlich budget has many positive features, including the fact that it would wipe out $1.8 billion in deficits projected through next year without increasing sales or income taxes. Mr. Ehrlich also avoids dipping into the state's $500 million rainy day fund. His budget would eliminate about 950 vacant positions in state government, cutting the number of state employees to 79,860. Mr. Ehrlich found room for more spending on prison construction, as well as initiatives to hire more public defenders and begin the process of fixing the state's scandal-plagued juvenile-justice system.
"The governor and I were handed a $1.8 billion budget deficit, and we had 10 weeks to fix it," said Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. "We are spending within our means."
At the same time, however, there are certainly a number of questionable aspects to the administration's approach to the budget. The governor, for example, has yet to rule out a gas tax increase. Also, Mr. Ehrlich proposes to borrow upwards of $300 million from the transportation trust fund and delay roughly $100 million worth of other local transportation projects to balance the budget. One doesn't have to agree with Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan's strident attacks against the Ehrlich budget (which will, at a minimum, postpone several of Mr. Duncan's pet pork projects, including the building of a new subway line in the Washington suburbs) to have serious doubts about raiding transportation to pay for other things. This is especially true given the pressing need for new road construction and repairs, particularly in the Washington suburbs.
We would also urge the Ehrlich administration to take another look at the five-year, $1.3 billion package of new spending for the existing public education system that was passed at the end of last year's legislative session following a determined lobbying campaign by Gov. Parris Glendening, Senate President Mike Miller and state schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick, which resulted in some last-minute goodies for powerful legislators from Baltimore and Montgomery County. While we definitely encourage spending for schools, we strongly urge the Ehrlich administration to make sure the extra dollars follow children into their schoolhouses, and that the administration look at promising, alternative programs, such as the proposed Head Start-like program in Montgomery County, as well as charter schools.
One of the most hotly debated budget questions this year will involve in the governor's projection of $400 million in revenue through next year from legalized slots at race tracks. House Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat and perhaps the legislature's most determined opponent of slots, is promoting job-destroying corporate tax increases and "loophole closings" as an alternative. Mr. Ehrlich rightly shot that idea down. The governor will be doing this quite a bit between now and April, when the legislature leaves Annapolis.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide