Factored any way, Sauerbrey's math doesn't add up

October 18, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Ellen Sauerbrey's running for governor as though nobody out here knows arithmetic. She wants to cut taxes in ways only she understands. She's voted against gun control, despite the modern mathematics of killing. And now she wants to put abortion behind us, since she sees the numbers running dramatically against her.

Her new television commercials say as much. Yes, she admits, she voted against abortion, but now it's the law of the land, and she'll uphold that law. Having angered so many people, she now wishes they all should get instant amnesia.

On guns, she gets into more trouble. Having voted against the banning of Saturday Night Specials, and against the banning of assault pistols such as Uzis, and against a seven-day waiting list for those wishing to buy guns, she still wants to be called tough on crime.

"Ellen Sauerbrey couldn't win a war on crime," says Vinny DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, "because she won't disarm the enemy. She not only votes against these things, she was the leader of the floor fight against banning assault pistols.

"On abortion, she says the people have spoken and she'll respect their wishes, but she never says that about gun control. We believe she's committed to overturning the gun control laws. She's the NRA's dream candidate.

"Take the seven-day waiting period. The state police said we've got to have it at gun stores and gun shows. She voted against it. But the waiting period has stopped roughly 15,000 criminals in Maryland who went into gun stores and were stopped from purchasing guns because of that law. We need it enforced. But what happens if she gets elected and appoints a state police superintendent who says, 'Who needs to enforce that?' "

Ridiculous, say Sauerbrey's people. She wouldn't overturn any of the current gun laws, and she'd never appoint anyone who wouldn't enforce the existing laws -- neither of which assertion addresses future gun measures she might face.

Where the Sauerbrey campaign makes people crazy, though, is the business about 24 percent tax cuts over the next four years. When she said it on primary election night, the current governor, named Schaefer, stood watching her on a TV monitor and muttered, "If she does it, she'll have to cut 1,000 jobs in the first six months."

Immediately, Schaefer mentioned police and prisons and schools. But some of this looks like an old political shell game: You cut the state budget and take your bows for keeping your word, but meanwhile, somebody's got to pay the bills, so the cost is simply shifted back to the counties and the cities, only it's built into a little thing like property taxes.

Thus, it's still coming out of the same wallets. And yet, on such business, Sauerbrey's built a war cry for her campaign.

Here's some simple math: The state budget is now projected to be $400 million in the red in four years. Add to this the $800 million by which Sauerbrey wants to cut taxes.

That's $1.2 billion. Do you start with entitlements like Medicaid or the schools, which are one-fifth of the budget? Sauerbrey says no, but gets cagey when you ask her to be specific. She won't cut schools in the first year, she says. After that, who knows? For a candidate who calls herself tough on crime, here's another question: Where will we put all the criminals she wants to lock up? The state's projecting a $60 million jump in public safety costs next year, mainly from building a new prison.

In the face of this, Sauerbrey says she'd limit the public safety hike to $6 million. This, in a time when the prison population's rising by a thousand inmates a year.

It doesn't add up -- and yet it's the centerpiece of Sauerbrey's campaign, this notion that she can cut 24 percent in taxes while amazingly giving state workers a raise, increasing local aid and avoiding layoffs.

"Those in government who say it can't be done are those who are wedded to the status quo," says Sauerbrey spokeswoman Carol Hirschburg. "I don't think the majority of voters are interested in every little detail. The question isn't whether she can do it, but whether she's going in the right direction."

The last remark sounds like the new math of the Sauerbrey campaign: They think nobody out here will figure out this 24 percent tax cut because, frankly, they haven't, either.

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