- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A split between Maryland’s Democratic leaders over a bill to cap tuition at state colleges and universities will make it more difficult for the legislature to override the expected veto by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat, thinks tuition should be capped. But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, thinks tuition rates should remain flexible for state schools to be competitive.

“It doesn’t make any sense to put a cap on it,” Mr. Busch said. “I don’t think caps are successful.”

Mr. Miller disagrees.

“I am overwhelmingly in favor of that bill,” he said.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Ehrlich’s reduction in state aid to colleges within the Maryland University System is a “hidden tax on middle-income Marylanders” because it is passed on to students.

It remains unclear whether Democrats, with 33 seats in the 47-member Senate and 98 seats in the 141-member House, have enough votes to override the governor’s expected vetoes of the tuition bill and other legislation.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, also is expected to veto two other bills.

One bill gives tax amnesty to companies that use out-of-state tax shelters. The other increases to $10.50 the minimum wage of employees working under state contracts. None of the bills are likely to be vetoed until the end of this month.

Political analysts say the closest vote on overriding a veto will be on the tuition cap.

The House passed the bill with 82 votes and would need 85 to override Mr. Ehrlich’s veto. The Senate, which passed it with 30 votes, needs only 29 votes.

“When it gets to that point, you are going to have both sides twisting people’s arms,” said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, a Republican representing Garrett and Allegany counties.

The bill would hold future tuition increases at 5 percent a year for the next three years and increase the corporate income-tax rate from 7 percent to 7.7 percent to compensate for revenue potentially cut by the cap.

Critics have said without a cap, students likely would face a 10 percent increase this year, in addition to the double-digit increases last year.

Mr. Ehrlich cut an estimated $120 million in state aid to colleges and universities in the 2004 budget because of a $1 billion shortfall left by his predecessor, Democrat Parris N. Glendening.

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Miller faulted Mr. Busch for killing Mr. Ehrlich’s proposal to raise an estimated $800 million a year by bringing slot machines to the state.

Instead, Mr. Busch unsuccessfully pushed for a $670 million increase in sales and income taxes, in part to cover $1.3 billion required by the court-mandated Thornton Education Act to help bridge the gap between poorer and wealthier school districts.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller agree that increasing wages for workers under state contacts is a good idea as long as somebody finds the money to cover the raises.

Ehrlich administration spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the governor most likely will veto the legislation, known as the living-wage bill, although a group of minority business owners have asked him not to.

Mr. Ehrlich also is considering vetoing a bill granting amnesty to corporations that hid profits in Delaware holding companies and another bill increasing penalties for those who use tiny cameras to spy on others.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat, said vetoing the tuition and the living-wage bills was unacceptable.

“That is a fundamental difference between Democrat and Republicans,” Mr. Barve said. “I support the living wage because it puts money in the pockets of people who work very hard and don’t make very much.”

Mr. Barve said he has not reviewed the voyeurism bill but opposes a veto.

“How can you object to that?” he asked. “How can you be pro-Peeping Tom?”

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, asked for more hearings before a veto of the tuition bill.

He said the bill is “of highest importance to students and their families buffeted by sharp rises in tuition costs and concerned by the prospect of additional increases next year.”

Mr. Busch rejects that idea.

Mr. Ehrlich vetoed 19 bills after last year’s General Assembly session, his first. Mr. Glendening vetoed as many as 35 bills and as few as 10 each year during eight years in office.

Democratic lawmakers previously have overridden vetoes by Mr. Ehrlich, Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years. They overrode five of his 19 vetoes before this year’s General Assembly session, according to the Department of Legislative Services, the first overrides since 1989.

Still, Miss DeLeaver said the governor is not concerned about the likelihood of overrides.

“He makes his decisions based on what he believes is best for Marylanders and sound policy, not on threats by the General Assembly.”

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