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Ehrlich's plan to streamline shouldn't be dropped now

May 05, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who promised a year-long review of state government to find waste and streamline operations, apparently has changed course.

Maryland's chief executive is now apparently ready to cut first and study later. It's not a strategy that makes sense, unless its object is to punish those lawmakers who didn't vote for his ill-formed slot-machine proposal.

How deep will the next round of cuts be? Maryland Budget Secretary James "Chip" DiPaula said the administration wants to trim $500 million from the $22.4 billion budget that takes effect July 1.

For the University of Maryland, which was forced to raise tuition in mid-semester, the next round could amount to $60 million.

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University officials said that could force the layoff of 1,000 employees, a severe tuition increase or a major reduction in the number of students educated.

As a graduate of Princeton and the first Republican since Spiro Agnew elected to Maryland's highest office, Ehrlich is not stupid. He surely must know that the state's economy and future prosperity depend on having an educated citizenry. So why would he even consider such a thing?

Well, it's an old but not particularly honorable political tradition to react to proposals to cut revenue by announcing that such action would force drastic reductions in essential services. If we don't get new taxes, they say, we may have to close a few of the fire houses, or the summer youth program or whatever will get the public riled up.

In this case Ehrlich seems to have determined that cutting the university budget will upset parents who are already struggling to put their kids through college. No doubt some of them will be enlisted for the 2004 fight to get slots approved.

We would rather see the governor take the high road here and follow through with his plan to put government on a diet while making it more efficient.

It may not get citizens as excited as making college less affordable for their kids, but it would be proof that some of the people who talk about making government more efficient actually know what they're talking about.

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