- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

While Gov. Robert Ehrlich was the official bearer of the bad news that Maryland property taxes will increase by nearly 60 percent in the coming months, the bulk of the responsibility for higher taxes lies with the people who created the deficits and sought to sandbag Mr. Ehrlich into raising taxes in order to foot the bill. The Democrats, in particular, former Gov. Parris Glendening — who left Mr. Ehrlich a legacy of several billion dollars worth of deficits when he departed the Governor’s Mansion in January — and the current leadership of the General Assembly share most of the blame. Upon taking office, Mr. Ehrlich was confronted with a legislature in which Democrats commanded majorities of more than 2-1 in both the chambers. In the House of Delegates, a new, more liberal Democratic leadership — led by Speaker Michael Busch and Majority Leader Kumar Barve — killed the governor’s efforts to provide an alternative source of revenue by allowing slots at race tracks. So, Mr. Ehrlich, who is required by state law to balance the budget, announced this week that he would agree to a temporary increase in the property tax rate, from 8.4 cents to 13.2 cents per $100 of valuation (an increase of more than $95 in taxes for a $200,000 house). The governor says he’ll work to repeal the tax increase when the General Assembly returns in January.Last month, Mr. Ehrlich tried to reach a balanced-budget compromise with the legislature, proposing to increase property taxes to raise another $165 million in revenue. Mr. Busch and Senate President Mike Miller wanted more. Mr. Ehrlich also proposed an increase in corporate filing fees. The Democrat-dominated legislature approved the filing-fee increase, together with $135 million worth of tax increases on HMOs and corporate income. Mr. Ehrlich has promised to veto those increases.Instead of going along with higher taxes, Mr. Ehrlich proposes to do something that is anathema to the liberal Democrats who have dominated Annapolis for decades: cut spending. The governor had previously said he would deal with the $1 billion deficit through a series of budget-cutting proposal that he would send to the legislature in January. Now, Mr. Ehrlich is likely to propose $500 million worth of cuts from the more than $22 billion budget that takes effect July 1. Close to $60 million of these cuts could come from higher education, and university officials are bracing for a difficult series of layoffs, tuition increases or cuts in the number of students — or a combination of all three. The Democratic leadership is furious with Mr. Ehrlich’s refusal to go along with all of their tax increases. Messrs. Miller and Busch are complaining that by refusing to increase taxes, the governor is pandering to some sinister cabal of “right-wing” elements in the Maryland Republican Party. This assertion is just plain silly. By standing firm, Mr. Ehrlich is keeping faith with the broad coalition of moderate and conservative Marylanders who elected him. Until Marylanders decide to elect a more responsible General Assembly, Mr. Ehrlich must continue to fight the irresponsible ideologues.

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