- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

When it comes to increasing Marylanders’ taxes, the state Democratic Party never gives up. Delegate Sheila Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, is pressing ahead with the Democrats’ latest plan to force Gov. Robert Ehrlich to agree to increased taxes for Marylanders. If Mr. Ehrlich doesn’t cave, look for a nasty campaign to blame him for the fiscal mess he inherited 10 months ago. The state’s fiscal woes have made it increasingly unlikely that the state will be able to afford the Thornton Plan — a commission’s proposal to pour new money into the state’s public schools over the next few years.

But it would be a bum rap to blame Mr. Ehrlich — who has tried again and again to fund the program using revenue from slots rather than tax increases — for the failure to fund Thornton. The governor has tried repeatedly to come to a compromise with the General Assembly leadership. But time and time again, he’s run into a brick wall: the Democrats’ insistence that any deal include tax increases.

Mrs. Hixson, for example, insists that, in exchange for the Democrats’ agreement to legalize slot machines next year, Mr. Ehrlich would have to agree to increase sales taxes. House Speaker Michael Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, says that the House won’t approve slots unless Mr. Ehrlich agrees to jettison his no-new-taxes position.

With Mr. Ehrlich rightly continuing to hold firm, the Democrats’ political frustration and rhetoric against him grows increasingly strident. At the party’s annual state dinner late last month, “The speakers droned on, most of them focusing on the presidential campaign,” The Washington Post reported. Montgomery County Delegate Peter Franchot just couldn’t take any more. “Here’s a guy who’s so much more harmful than [President] Bush to our state,” he declared, referring to Mr. Ehrlich. “This crowd would erupt if someone went after him.”

Finally, Mr. Busch just couldn’t resist doing so. Mr. Busch urged the crowd to remember that “Without our support, this governor cannot govern. And he better make sure he learns to work with us.”

This tone illustrates a growing polarization in Annapolis: Mr. Ehrlich is a moderately conservative Republican — something almost unheard of in modern times in Maryland. But, if anything, the General Assembly (particularly when it comes to the leadership) has lurched leftward since Parris Glendening left the governor’s mansion nearly one year ago. In the coming weeks, look for the start of an Democratic Party propaganda blitz aimed at demonizing Mr. Ehrlich as an enemy of Maryland schoolchildren.


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