- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley this week began building his case for budget cuts and tax increases by blaming former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for the state’s $1.4 billion deficit.

“We have inherited a $1.4 billion structural deficit from the last administration,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said during a state party fundraising dinner in Howard County Thursday. “It’s going to be very difficult, and I really need your help to communicate with your neighbors.”

Mr. O’Malley after the dinner also criticized Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, for increasing taxes, much as Mr. O’Malley is expected to do next year or during a special session of the legislature before then.

“The hypocrisy of saying, as some revisionist historians like the former governor like to say, that they never raised taxes — I think most people understand that to be untrue; in fact, pretty patently false,” Mr. O’Malley said.

When he took office in January 2003, Mr. Ehrlich inherited a $4 billion structural deficit from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and left office with more than $1.8 billion in the state savings account without raising sales or income taxes.

Mr. Ehrlich upheld his promise not to raise the state sales or income taxes during his tenure, and even declined a revenue package floated by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, that would have tied legalized slot machines to a penny-per-dollar increase on the sales tax.

The former governor did, however, raise the state property tax, increase car-registration fees and create the “flush tax” on utilities customers and septic-system owners during his four-year term.

Mr. Ehrlich has not criticized Mr. O’Malley by name since leaving office, although he has frequently discussed Mr. O’Malley’s policies on his weekly radio show on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

“You can’t spend wildly one second and then tighten the belt the next,” Mr. Ehrlich said May 12.

Mr. Ehrlich did not return calls for comment. Former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele declined to comment on Mr. O’Malley’s remarks.

Mr. O’Malley told the crowd of Democratic supporters Thursday night that he did not have to drain environmental or transportation accounts to balance the budget and saved money by revoking take-home car privileges Mr. Ehrlich granted to his press aides.

The governor last week said that he plans to cut $200 million in state spending, months after he transferred $1.2 billion from the state reserves to cover a shortfall in his first proposed budget.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, said the blame for the state’s budget deficit lies equally with Mr. Ehrlich and the members of the legislature.

“While the deficit was allowed to accumulate, nothing was done to address the problem,” Mr. Miller said.

The state’s estimated structural deficit is the result of two major laws signed by Mr. Glendening. The first, an income-tax cut made during the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, cut into the state’s revenue stream by almost $1 billion. The second, signed during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, increased school spending by $1.3 billion.

The net result is a structural deficit estimated to reach at least $1.5 billion next year.

Mr. O’Malley has said he expects to raise taxes, but has not specified how or when. The governor bought himself one year to build the case for budget cuts, tax increases and legalized slot machines when he drew from the state’s savings accounts, and he has spent the past few weeks making his public pitch.

Republican lawmakers said it was ridiculous to draw down money Mr. Ehrlich squirreled away and then blame his predecessor for the budget deficit.

“Imagine spending your neighbor’s savings and then blaming your neighbor for being fiscally spendthrift — it’s mind-boggling,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican.

Other Republican leaders said it is up to Mr. O’Malley to take responsibility for the state’s fiscal woes.

“What he’s trying to do is skip the issue and lay blame. It’s time for him to accept responsibility that he didn’t do anything during his first year in office,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican. “It’s part of what people are sick of from the election, the blame game.”

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