- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will begin presenting bits and pieces of his budget plans no sooner than next week, an administration spokesman said yesterday.

As he returned to the Governor’s Mansion from a national-security meeting at the White House yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich told reporters that he would make a series of announcements about his budget and efforts to close a projected $1 billion deficit next fiscal year.

“He said not to expect one major announcement. It will be most likely done over time,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, after the governor had met with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge during a National Infrastructure Advisory Council meeting.

Mr. Fawell said details about impending budget cuts could begin trickling out during a meeting of the Board of Public Works next Wednesday. Mr. Ehrlich is a member of the three-member panel, with Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

“He is working with Budget Secretary [James C. ‘Chip] DiPaula to identify further saving around state government and will continue to do so before making any formal announcements,” Mr. Fawell said.

“As they go agency to agency and from department to department, they will be making announcements.”

Democrats have assailed Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to withhold $650 million from the state’s $22.4 billion budget beginning this month — an indication that the governor has no plans to increase the state’s sales and income taxes.

Mr. Ehrlich, who is Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, vowed in his campaign not to increase those taxes.

Budget analysts are projecting a $1 billion deficit next fiscal year, resulting in large part from the Thornton plan — an education initiative that earmarks an additional $1.2 billion per year for public schools by 2008.

Mr. Ehrlich has said the state will fund the Thornton plan for at least a year, but that $40 million will be trimmed from the University System of Maryland’s budget.

“The strength of a modern economy is an educated work force, and I think these type of cuts will start a sliding back,” said state Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s County Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. “In addition to slots, I think we have to raise taxes.”

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly this year killed Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to legalize slot-machine gambling at four horse-racing tracks, which, the governor said, would have generated up to $700 million a year in revenue for the state.

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