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Schaefer praises Ehrlich

October 23, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer on Wednesday expressed admiration for the current governor and disgust with the previous one.

But Schaefer said as much as he likes Gov. Robert Ehrlich, he can't guess how the Republican will fix the state's remaining budget problems.

Ehrlich will have to close a $795 million budget gap next year, Schaefer said.

"I honestly don't know how he's going to do it," Schaefer, a Democrat, told about 125 Hagerstown Rotarians at the Venice Inn.

While Ehrlich has proposed placing slot machines at racetracks to bolster the budget, some prominent Democrats in the legislature want to link slots with tax increases that the governor has vowed to veto.

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"He has been pushed hard to raise taxes. Whether he can stay there, I don't know," Schaefer said.

If the legislature doesn't approve slots during the upcoming session, which begins in January, it's not likely to happen in the remaining two years of Ehrlich's term, he said.

Schaefer blamed the state's budget problems squarely at the feet of Ehrlich's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.

"He didn't worry about spending money. He just spent it like it was going out of style," he said.

Glendening spent too much on land preservation, $396 million, at a time when the state couldn't afford the luxury, he said.

Ehrlich's administration is in the process of revamping the state's land preservation policies.

Schaefer said the state will give priority to protecting land crucial to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including land near the Potomac River in Washington County.

Ehrlich agrees with that concept, although the policy has not been finalized, said the governor's spokesman Henry Fawell.

Although Ehrlich and Schaefer don't always agree, Schaefer gave Ehrlich credit for listening to him. Schaefer, with 48 years of public service under his belt, is a former Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore.

"I'm very pro-him. He's a decent man. He's a caring man," Schaefer said.

Schaefer said Glendening ignored his comments when the two served on the three-member Board of Public Works, which approves major state expenses.

Schaefer started his mini-tirade against Glendening near the beginning of his short speech to the Rotary.

"There was a fella in office before this. I forgot the son of a gun's name. I did not like him," he said.

Schaefer outlined the state of his tax collections as comptroller.

Sales tax collections, which were down for the past year, are starting to rebound, he said. Income tax collections are up 5 percent, capital gains taxes are flat and the lottery is down about 6 percent, he said.

After the speech, Schaefer was asked about the University System of Maryland budget. Washington County businesspeople are worried there won't be enough money to operate the Hagerstown Education Center when it opens in January 2005.

"I don't want to be optimistic," said Schaefer, who forecast more cuts to higher education.

Tuition hikes are likely, and Schaefer predicted they would be in the range of 2 percent to 3 percent rather than the 10 percent to 12 percent that's been speculated.

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