House limits Ehrlich budget cuts

March 17, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A bill to limit Gov. Robert Ehrlich's power to cut the state budget without legislative approval passed the Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Republicans argued against the measure, calling it a political ploy that would bind Ehrlich and future governors from responding to emergencies.

Last summer, Ehrlich and the other two members of the Board of Public Works voted to slash $208.4 million from the budget without public notice of the proposed changes.


Ehrlich cited a budget crisis, but Democrats argued the move was not necessary. The 2004 budget was balanced and the gap existed only for future budgets.

The legislation would require a public hearing and public notice of any proposed reductions to come before the board.

Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said the bill ensures that lawmakers have an equal say in any cuts made when the legislature is not in session.

"We have to have collaboration between the executive and legislative branches," he said.

Republicans said the current process, which was used by Parris Glendening and William Donald Schaefer when they had control of the governor's mansion, works well.

"We're scratching an itch that in my opinion doesn't need to be scratched," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, argued during the debate on the House floor.

Shank and others said the legislation would hamper Ehrlich's ability to respond quickly in an emergency.

"This governor, any governor, needs to make decisions. I want the governor to be able to be responsive," said Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Eastern Shore.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 90 to 48.

Washington County lawmakers largely opposed the measure, with the only yes vote coming from the only Democrat in the delegation, Del. John P. Donoghue.

Ehrlich has survived several attempts to restrict his power this legislative session.

Last week, the Senate rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have weakened his power to craft the state budget.

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