- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A bill requiring the state to fund the full $1.3 billion Thornton school aid plan became law yesterday without Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s signature.

Despite reservations about whether the state could afford the huge increase in aid, Mr. Ehrlich said he declined to veto the bill because of his “commitment to improve education for Maryland’s children.”

In a letter explaining the reasons he allowed the bill to become law without his signature, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, stated that he “promised to fully fund the $1.3 billion increase to education funding as provided in the Bridge to Excellence Act,” and that he intended to “continue to keep that promise.”

The school aid law that passed two years ago included a “trigger” provision specifying that the final three steps would not have to be funded unless the House and Senate passed a resolution this year saying that the state could afford the $1.3 billion. The bill that Mr. Ehrlich declined to sign or veto repealed the trigger, making the increase mandatory.

In his letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, the governor said lawmakers failed “to abide by the spirit and the letter of the law of the Bridge to Excellence Act” when they ducked taking a stand on whether money will be available to pay for Thornton in fiscal years 2006 through 2008.

He also appealed for passage of his slot machine bill that was approved by the Senate and is now awaiting action in the House.

Without additional revenue from slot machines, painful budget cuts will be necessary in future years that “will fall on the state’s health and human services programs and the state’s share of support for local governments,” the letter to Mr. Busch stated.

Talking to reporters after his decision was announced, Mr. Ehrlich said by passing the bill, lawmakers removed “the one small piece of accountability” they had included in the law.

“My thought was maybe just letting the bill go into effect will highlight the need to pass a slots bill this year,” he said.

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