- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gained bipartisan support yesterday for the $208 million budget cut.

Maryland and county officials said they expected the deep cuts and already made plans to continue to provide services for residents.

State Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s County Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, wanted more collaboration with General Assembly lawmakers but said he supported the cuts.

“I support him because the [budget] shortfall in 2004 will carry over to 2005,” Mr. Currie said. “This will help us with the deficit.”

Mr. Currie said also supports Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, because the governor has backed full funding for public education in kindergarten through 12th grade.

He also said the expected $1 billion shortfall would have been reduced had Democrats backed Mr. Ehrlich’s proposal to generate an estimated $700,000 a year in revenue by bringing slot-machine gambling to four horse-racing tracks.

Mr. Currie’s endorsement came as Prince George’s County prepared to deal with the expected cuts, which trimmed the state’s fiscal 2004 budget to roughly $22.2 billion.

“Although we are not happy about receiving additional cuts in state aid, the level of reductions does fall within the range that the county had been anticipating,” said Thomas Himler, director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat whose state funding was cut yesterday by $2.8 million, said she also has been telling residents, politicians and County Council members to expect the cuts.

“Ultimately, the residents will turn to the county for help if the state is unable to provide it,” she said. “I’m sure that other jurisdictions across the state will face these same challenges.”

However, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett was less accepting of the cuts.

“I am very disappointed,” he said. “We are had a balanced budget at the time when the legislature concluded and [Mr. Ehrlich] decided to cut the taxes to protect corporate interest.”

The governor is one of three members on the state’s Board of Public Works, which can make spending reductions in emergency situations without the General Assembly’s approval.

John M. Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, praised the cuts and criticized Democrats for wanting to wait until the next legislative session to resolve the budget shortfall.

“I would not wait until we have a problem to fix it,” he said.

Murray Miller, executive director of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, said the administration made the wrong decision by reducing the club’s budget by $25,000 — part of the $6. 7 million in cuts to the Maryland State Department of Education.

He said the money was earmarked for uniforms, equipment and field maintenance, but that the club will not stop providing services.

Mr. Miller said the club will charge more to children to participate in football and other sports.

University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” E. Kirwan said the system is expected to grow by 25 percent over the next seven years, so he is disappointed with the $40 million cut to higher education.

“Higher education is taking 20 percent of the cuts to the state budget, while it represent 7 percent of the state budget,” he said. “It is difficult to understand. The state needs to be investing in higher education, and right now the exact opposite is happening.”

Among the other significant cuts made yesterday by the Board of Public Works was roughly $84 million to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, $11.6 million to the Department of Human Resources and $9.7 million to community colleges.

The state also cut more than $1 million from the Maryland National Guard.

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