- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday made good on his promise to veto $137 million in new corporate taxes, a move lauded by fellow Republicans but derided by Democratic leaders as state politics become increasingly seasoned with bitter partisanship.

Mr. Ehrlich, the state’s first Republican governor in more than three decades, said he could not sign the Democratic-sponsored bill because it includes a 2 percent tax on premiums of health maintenance organizations.

“It will be passed on to the working poor, to the lower class,” Mr. Ehrlich said at a State House news conference where he announced the veto of 18 bills he considered questionable, bad or just plain frivolous.

The veto list included several other high-profile bills, such as legislation to reduce tuition for illegal immigrants attending public colleges and to let police use cameras to catch speeding motorists.

He also vetoed a Democratic-sponsored bill to make walking the state exercise.

“We are trying to get away from the era of silly bills,” Mr. Ehrlich said of the walking bill introduced by Delegate William A. Bronrott, Montgomery Democrat.

Mr. Ehrlich said he vetoed the tuition bill because it favored illegal immigrants over legal immigrants and because it may have violated federal law. Nevertheless, he said it was a tough decision.

“We are slowly chipping away at the central goal of citizenship,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

“If we offer this to immigrants, we would have to offer it to everyone.”

The bill would have given in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who attended Maryland high schools for three years, then graduated. It cleared the House and Senate with strong Democratic support but almost total opposition from Republican lawmakers.

The governor vetoed the radar-camera bill over concerns it would subvert due process and remove the human element from law enforcement. “It’s judge, jury and disposition rolled all into one,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich has been promising to veto the corporate-tax bill since it was introduced in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Yesterday, he repeated his commitment to solve Maryland’s budget woes through spending cuts rather than taxes.

The governor said he had set a goal of reducing spending by 7.5 percent in practically every agency. However, he said some vital areas, such as public safety, likely will be spared such deep cuts and may even receive budget increases at the expense of other departments.

Mr. Ehrlich has said the continuing budget crunch — with an estimated $1 billion shortfall expected next year — could lead to painful cuts in state aid to local governments and layoffs of state workers.

The governor has blamed the predicament on Democratic leaders who killed his plan to legalize slot-machine gambling at horse tracks. Mr. Ehrlich said the legalized gambling would have generated up to $700 million in new state revenue.

Democratic leaders also held a news conference yesterday in which they lambasted the governor for the pending corporate-tax veto and vowed to override it when the General Assembly convenes in January.

The tax bill passed with 87 votes in the House, two votes more than needed to override a veto. However, the Senate passed it with 28 votes, one short of an override.

“We cut the budget by $2 billion. You can’t do that on the backs of state workers,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, who led the charge to reject the slots bill in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said the tax-bill veto sent the wrong message to the legislature and to the electorate. He also said Mr. Ehrlich was siding with the corporate elite at the expense of working-class Marylanders.

“It hurts the little people, the working people,” he said. “The fat cats have to take some pain … and that has not happened.”

Mr. Ehrlich said by vetoing the tax bill he had kept his campaign promise, which voters remember. “These are the tangible results from an election where the people wanted change,” he said.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John Kane said the vetoes, especially the corporate-tax veto, were “good government at work.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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