- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2003

The political strategy that the Maryland Democratic Party plans to use to win back the Statehouse in 2006 is apparent. It will be a little-league version of the one adopted by Terry McAuliffe’s crew against George Bush: depict the governor as a cruel, heartless soul. The mindset is illustrated on the party’s Web site, which prominently displays an article headlined “Ehrlich says, ‘Let Them Eat Cake.’”

“Does he not care that schools, public safety and health care for vulnerable children are, according to his own administration, on a chopping block of his own making?” demanded state Democratic Party Chair Isiah Leggett. Of course, Mr. Leggett ignores the fact that the spending cuts Mr. Ehrlich has been making are part of a constitutionally mandated process to close a budget gap. In fact, the spendthrift Democrats in the General Assembly now face an $800 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Mr. Leggett then goes on to criticize Mr. Ehrlich for agreeing to a temporary increase in property taxes to balance the budget. He neglects, however, to point out that Mr. Ehrlich reluctantly agreed to this scheme, which was foisted on him by the Democrat-dominated General Assembly’s refusal to entertain spending restraint. (Mr. Ehrlich has vowed to seek the repeal of the property-tax increase when the legislature convenes next year.) After attacking the governor for increasing taxes, Mr. Leggett compounds the demagoguery by complaining that Mr. Ehrlich vetoed legislation which provided $135 million in corporate tax and fee increases. Mr. Ehrlich’s veto, he complains, cost the state the opportunity to close a “corporate tax loophole.” What Mr. Leggett’s class-struggle approach ignores, of course, is the reality that the tax increases — pushed by Democratic Senate President Mike Miller and Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch — would have jeopardized jobs.

A central theme of the Democrats’ strategy is to hammer home the point that new taxes are necessary. Mr. Busch, for example, has been considering proposals to increase both the state’s income tax and the sales tax. Sen. Ulysses Currie, the Prince George’s Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, hints at taxing service industries. Veteran Democratic senators like Gloria Lawlah of Prince George’s and Ida Ruben of Montgomery County are also pushing for higher corporate taxes.

If Mr. Ehrlich fails to yield to these demands, he will continue to get hammered by disgruntled ideologues who are furious about the need to cut back their pet spending programs. For example, former University of Maryland Chancellor Donald Langenberg has been waging a guerrilla war of sorts against cuts in aid to higher education and attacking the governor in a series of letters to the Baltimore Sun. He is doing this despite the fact that higher education receives almost one-third more money than it did five years ago. The attacks will likely continue, so long as the governor does the right thing by putting Maryland Democrats on a diet.

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