- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appealed to religious leaders yesterday to support him in a dispute with lawmakers over his plan to give government money to church-run charitable organizations.

The governor said an amendment to the budget added by the Senate would restrict the state’s ability to get federal funds for faith-based charities.

He also said the amendment was added “for no particular reason” and that he hoped House lawmakers would remove it.

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery Democrat and vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said the amendment will not prevent funding for religious charities.

He also said the dispute focuses on how the program will be administered, not on whether faith-based charities should be eligible for funding.

Mr. Ehrlich wants to create the program with an executive order, which does not require legislative approval. Mr. Hogan said lawmakers want the governor to introduce a bill that would set parameters on how the money would be used.

Delegate Norman H. Conway, Wicomico Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, agreed with Mr. Hogan that the amendment in the budget will not prohibit Maryland charities from getting federal funds.

Joseph Getty, director of Mr. Ehrlich’s policy office, said the administration doesn’t need a bill and will not submit one.

The governor yesterday also sent the legislature a $13 million addition to his state budget that includes $3 million to help provide housing for people whose homes were seriously damaged by Tropical Storm Isabel.

The supplemental budget includes $4.3 million for the Department of Juvenile Services for the Charles H. Hickey School and for community placements for young people in the juvenile-services system. Other items include $111,798 for a skin-cancer prevention program and $3 million for people who need emergency medical and housing assistance.

Some Democrats are concerned about $670 million in tax increases proposed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.

They say voters could respond by not electing Democrats to the General Assembly.

Mr. Busch’s plan is to increase the sales-tax rate from 5 percent to 6 percent, temporarily increase the income tax on affluent Marylanders and reduce the state property-tax rate by 8 cents per $100 assessed value.

Many lawmakers think the proposal will be rejected, but Delegate Peter Franchot, Montgomery Democrat, thinks it could give Republicans the opening to portray Democrats as “tax-and-spend” liberals.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat, said even if the tax package passes, there won’t be enough votes to override the governor’s veto.

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