- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

With Gov. Robert Ehrlich promising to veto the tax-increase bill on his desk and opt for spending cuts to ensure the state’s continued solvency, Senate President Mike Miller has clearly decided he’ll try to make life as uncomfortable as possible for him. In a letter co-signed by six other Democratic senators (see today’s Letters), Mr. Miller and friends signal their determination to play class-warfare politics against Mr. Ehrlich, the first Republican elected governor since 1966.

A careful look at their arguments, however, shows their case is weak. In their letter, the senators criticize Mr. Ehrlich’s plans to cut $450 million to $500 million (a reduction of less than 5 percent) from this year’s $22.8 billion state budget. Instead of cutting spending, they want Mr. Ehrlich to support a tax-increase bill, which includes a new tax on health maintenance organizations, “temporary” corporate tax increases and various corporate loophole closings.

In support of this last provision, Mr. Miller and company complain that corporations are paying less than 5 percent of the state’s tax burden. The senators apparently believe that, if taxes go up — and corporations are bearing say, 10 percent or 15 percent of the burden — that they’re achieving some form of social good. But the premise is a false one. Taxes levied on corporations are simply passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, and just discourage companies from operating in the state. That means less private-sector jobs available for Maryland workers — the very people Mr. Miller and his liberal colleagues claim they want to help.

The most strident criticism contained in the letter deals with Mr. Ehrlich’s suggestion that higher education in Maryland may bear part of the sacrifice in order to achieve a constitutionally required balanced budget without increased taxes. The seven Democratic senators serve notice that they’ll attempt to pin the blame squarely on Mr. Ehrlich for tuition increases, worker layoffs and “permanent damage to our high quality institutions” of higher learning.

This is nothing more than a cheap shot. From 1998 through January, when Mr. Ehrlich came into office, Maryland’s higher-education institutions experienced spending growth of 45 percent. Facing deficits as far as the eye can see, Mr. Ehrlich sought modest reductions of slightly under 7 percent for fiscal 2004.

There is much to be proud of in the higher education system, but there’s also duplication and bureaucratic bloat. In January, for example, the Baltimore Sun published a news story about “the state’s well-kept secret: a double-layered higher education bureaucracy where two educations that cost millions to run spend much of their time duplicating each other’s work.” It would be nice to think that the belt-tightening of the last three months has magically changed this. Frankly, we have our doubts, and we’d like to get some answers from Mr. Miller and his unhappy colleagues.

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