- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve rallied support yesterday for his bill to make Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. add his name to notices involving increases in state taxes or fees.

“The Motor Vehicle Administration deceived the public by sending out thousands of notices implying that only the General Assembly was responsible for vehicle registration fee increases,” said Mr. Barve, Montgomery Democrat.

Mr. Barve drafted the bill after reading the notices that state: “The Maryland General Assembly has approved a fee increase for vehicle registration.”

“Notices of this type politicize state agencies,” Mr. Barve said. “Taxpayer money should never be used to score political points.”

He also said the wording leads taxpayers to believe Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, was not responsible for an increase that he proposed last year.

“They assume we did it, and he didn’t,” said Mr. Barve, who voted for the fee increase as part of the governor’s transportation bill. “I wish the governor would own up to the fact that he and I agreed.”

Maryland drivers will pay an average of $128 to register a car every other year, up from $81. Truck and sport utility vehicle owners would pay $180 every two years, up from $108.

The bill highlights the strained relations this legislative session between the governor and state lawmakers, who have disagreed about Mr. Ehrlich’s hiring practices, his policy on selling and managing state-owned land and his appointments to state boards and commissions.

The House’s Health and Government Operations Committee will hold a hearing today on Mr. Barve’s bill, which would require the administration to mail thousands of correction notices.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said he stopped the notices as soon as the wording was brought to his attention.

Mr. Flanagan said the notices were sent for only a “matter of weeks” last summer, but that department officials could not immediately determine how many of the notices were mailed.

“It was entirely inappropriate the way it was worded,” Mr. Flanagan said. “Clearly, it was done without any sensitivity. The governor and this administration strongly supported that legislation, and we appreciated the legislature’s support of it.”

Still, Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell called the bill “ridiculous.”

“The governor has either killed or vetoed nearly $1.5 billion in taxes” proposed by Democrats, Mr. Fawell said. “So who’s raising taxes?”

He said Mr. Barve was the one taking advantage of taxpayers — by wasting their money on drafting pointless bills and holding hearings to score political points.

“It is a breathless hypocrisy,” Mr. Fawell said. “It is unbelievable that [the Democrats] have nothing better to do. They are gutting an agency for children, trying to kill the governor’s slots bill and his lead-paint poisoning bill, and yet Delegate Barve has time for this nonsense?”

• Bills offering state money for embryonic-stem-cell research face tough opposition in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. The bills call for $125 million in funding over the next five years. The money would come from the cigarette restitution fund, Maryland’s share of the national settlement between the states and tobacco companies.

• A bill that would allow unmarried domestic partners to make medical decisions for each other last week cleared the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. The panel rejected a similar bill last year that cleared the House.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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