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Democrats criticize Gov. Ehrlich

January 14, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland Democratic leaders fired up the party faithful on the eve of the legislative session Tuesday, taking jabs at Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and claiming that his no-tax stance will lead to harmful cuts to local governments.

Addressing a luncheon meeting of Democrats from across the state, House Speaker Michael E. Busch accused the governor of lacking vision for the state's future in the face of mounting budget deficits.

Last year, Ehrlich balanced the budget with cuts to higher education, which led to tuition increases, Busch said.

This time, Busch said Ehrlich would pass on the cuts to local governments.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the governor has a plan for a balanced budget, the details of which will be released Jan. 21.

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She said the governor would not respond to the rhetoric of Democrats, who control both the House of Delegates and the Senate.

"He's going into the session with a sense of collaboration and collegiality," DeLeaver said.

Democrats may have a different idea.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, said Ehrlich has failed to fulfill most of his campaign promises, including selling the state airplane and the state's box seats for the Orioles games.

When the 90-day session opens today, the legislature could start off on an adversarial note by voting to override bills that Ehrlich vetoed after the 2003 session, lawmakers said.

Environmental groups are lobbying the legislature to override Ehrlich's veto of a bill to set minimum energy efficiency standards for some new appliances.

Ehrlich also vetoed a bill that would have created a 2-percent tax on managed care health insurance premiums, a 10-percent surcharge on the corporate income tax and the closure of corporate tax loopholes.

DeLeaver declined to speculate on any potential override votes.

Busch, D-Anne Arundel, accused Ehrlich's administration of protecting corporate leaders at the expense of working class men and women.

"They're more concerned about leaving no millionaire behind than leaving no child behind," he said to a cheering room full of Democrats from all over the state.

Ehrlich is popular in Washington County, where he drew about 70 percent of the vote.

Former Del. Sue Hecht of Frederick, Md., now vice chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said even Ehrlich's supporters will begin to question his leadership when budget cuts affect their daily lives.

Contacted by phone at his Clear Spring office, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Allegany/Washington, defended Ehrlich's first year in office.

"I still feel the governor is doing a great job of taking every measure of cutting where he can to have us spend within our means," he said.

Ehrlich has held firm on his commitment not to raise sales or income taxes.

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