- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that the attempt by Democratic lawmakers to change a 100-year-old state law giving the governor the authority to make budget cuts was a “troublesome” and “partisan” move against his thriving administration.

“Some want to get their hands on an administration bill to kill it,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “And I think that is unfortunate. … We are stronger now than we have ever been, so if [Democrats] thought they were going to inflict political damage on us and make us weak, I believe they have failed.”

House Democrats voted 90-48 on Tuesday to limit the Ehrlich administration’s power to trim state spending, with all 43 House Republicans voting against the bill.

Democrats Kevin Kelly of Allegany County, and John S. Arnick, Joseph J. “Sonny” Minnick and Michael H. Weir Jr., all from Baltimore County, voted with Republicans.

Mr. Arnick said he voted against his party because the existing system works “fine.”

“I am a student of government,” he said. “And when we changed it before, the legislature [nearly] bankrupted the state.”

House Deputy Majority Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, said the vote was partisan and that Democratic lawmakers were upset with Mr. Ehrlich in July when he and the two other Board of Public Works members cut $208 million from the state budget.

“It is political on our part to say you cannot cut that, and it is political on his part to cut ….” he said. “It is political all around, and it is a matter of who has the most votes.”

Mr. Ehrlich was a state delegate from 1987 to 1995 before being elected to Congress.

This is not the first time since Mr. Ehrlich took office last year that partisan politics has gotten in the way of his administration. Last year, a House committee killed his proposal to place slot machines at four racetracks to pay for the $1.3 billion needed for the Thornton education initiative.

His budget bill is before the Democrat-controlled Senate, which also has attempted to curb his budget power.

The House bill that goes to the Senate would limit board members from cutting more than 10 percent from the state budget when the legislature is not in session. Deeper cuts would require a 21-day notice to lawmakers and public hearings.

If Mr. Ehrlich vetoes the House bill, delegates still have the required 85 votes to override the veto. However, it is not clear whether the Senate has enough votes to override a veto.

The Maryland governorship has maintained complete control over the state budget since 1914.

The General Assembly cannot increase items in the governor’s budget or move money from one program to another.

Mr. Ehrlich has used that autonomy to balance the nearly $1 billion budget deficit left by predecessor Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

A constitutional amendment that would have allowed the House and Senate to add programs to the budget but would have prohibited them from increasing the level of spending proposed by the governor failed in the Senate last week.

It also would have given the governor veto power over changes made to his budget.

A version of the bill remains in the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery Democrat, Monday won a new vote on the measure, now set for March 30.

Mr. Hogan would not say whether he has enough votes for the amendment to pass.

“We will see what happens,” he said. “And let people ponder it for another two weeks.”

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