- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to veto a corporate-tax package today, a move expected to create a $135 million shortfall in the state budget.

“The corporate-tax package is certain to be vetoed,” said Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni, who added that the state needed to reduce government spending instead of making Marylanders pay more taxes.

The governor plans to issue a list of other bills he will veto. The signing deadline is tomorrow.

The administration and General Assembly lawmakers have declined to speculate on the list.

Also undecided is the fate of a bill allowing communities to use radar cameras to catch speeders, as well as legislation allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities and to obtain driver’s licenses.

Mr. Ehrlich’s choices will help define his political agenda and show voters whether he is indeed the centrist Republican portrayed in his election campaign.

He has opposed photo radar, but has not commented on legislation allowing cameras in residential and school zones to catch speeders. The bill has strong support from Montgomery County lawmakers.

Montgomery County lawmakers also support a bill that would give in-state tuition to illegal aliens, but the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has asked Mr. Ehrlich not to sign it until the impact on minorities can be studied.

Other high-profile bills would reduce penalties for possession of medicinal marijuana and would replace half the board of directors of the nonprofit health care group Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, has lobbied the governor to sign the health care bill.

Mr. Ehrlich supports the concept of medicinal marijuana, though he has not decided on the bill, which reduces the possession charge to a $100 fine.

John P. Walters,President Bush’s drug czar, has advised Mr. Ehrlich against signing the bill.

Mr. Ehrlich likely will sign a bill that could open more charter school in the state, despite some misgivings.

His proposal gave universities, local school boards and the Maryland Board of Education the authority to open the schools, but the General Assembly watered down the bill to give such powers only to local school boards.

The tax package Mr. Ehrlich will veto would have raised business taxes temporarily and would have imposed a 2 percent tax on health maintenance organizations, or HMOs.

Mr. Ehrlich has said the HMOs simply would have passed the cost on to customers.

Mr. Massoni said the administration instead was looking at further spending cuts to replace the estimated $135 million revenue loss created by the veto.

He said no final decisions have been made.

“In the last eight years, we have gone from a $12 billion budget to a $22 billion budget,” Mr. Massoni said. “So there are definitely areas where we can make cuts.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George’s County and other Democratic legislative leaders wrote a letter this week condemning Mr. Ehrlich’s decision to veto the tax package, which they said brought fairness to the corporate-tax structure.

“In Maryland, corporations bear less than 5 percent of Maryland’s tax burden,” the letter stated.

The letter also warned against further budget cuts that would inflict “unnecessary pain on Maryland’s families, while protecting corporations that don’t pay their fair share.”

Mr. Ehrlich, who supported a nearly 5-cent rate increase in property taxes, has opposed the corporate-tax increase.

Mr. Massoni declined yesterday to discuss Mr. Ehrlich’s decisions, but said last week “we will clearly see the governor has been a man of his word.”

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