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Senate leader shares outlook on budget, education, revenue

December 01, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Although malpractice reform dominated the agenda of his audience Tuesday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller managed to give the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce his views on a few other issues:

· The budget - "We're coming out of a recession, and tax revenues are up," he said. "We're doing very well." He noted that the projected deficit for fiscal year 2006 is down by about $500 million already, leaving a deficit of about $300 million. The state government is required to balance the budget and approve it during the regular session of the General Assembly. Miller warned that without new revenue sources, some state agencies can expect budget cuts.

· Education - "Education has always been the Democrats' issue," he said, but now the Republicans have said they're going to fund Thornton (a state funding formula for education) but there are no revenues to fund it. Miller said the state faces a $1 billion deficit in fully funding K-12 education alone. Money is also short for higher education, he said.

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· Revenue sources - "The governor is not for any tax increases whatsoever," Miller said. "If you're a Republican, you can't use the word tax - you have to say 'fee.'" Miller affirmed his support for legalizing slots, although he said that "philosophically you can't be for them, but pragmatically you can't be against them."

· Transportation - Miller said the state's transportation trust fund should be used for projects, including work on Interstate 81 - "without tolls."

Chamber Chairman Ed Lough put in a plug for operating revenues for the new University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, set to open in January, and for capital improvement money for Washington County schools.

Miller replied that Ehrlich likely would find money "to help his Republican base - that's politics. Somebody else will take the hit to help his base in Western Maryland."

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