Ehrlich gets forensics practice

Discusses his platform at UM event as debate with Townsend nears

September 23, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - In a warm-up to Thursday's gubernatorial debate, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. answered pointed questions at a forum yesterday at the University of Maryland.

Ehrlich defended his support for slot machines at Maryland racetracks and spoke about the need for educational reform, including charter schools.

The forum was sponsored by the university's Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership.

The center invited Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to participate in a similar forum - which amounted to a free-flowing discussion on issues - but the lieutenant governor declined.

Most of the questions focused on the state's budget deficit, which is estimated at more than $1 billion.

Ehrlich's plans to legalize slots at four Maryland racetracks was also a hot topic.

Townsend opposes legalizing slot machines because she fears it would increase crime.

Ehrlich estimates that slot machines eventually could raise more than $500 million a year for the state. He said slot machines are the only way to close the budget deficit and fund the Thornton Commission legislation.

The legislation, which the General Assembly passed this year, calls for the state's annual aid for public schools to increase by $1.3 billion over six years.

"I think there has been a lack of vision in this state because some folks thought the cocktail party would last forever," Ehrlich told an audience of about 100 people.

"There is one of two ways to fund Thornton, it's either a massive tax increase or these dollars from slots."

Townsend spokesman Len Foxwell said last night: "While Bob Ehrlich keeps dreaming of hitting the jackpot with slots, Kathleen will meet our children's needs the old-fashioned way: Make education the state's top priority and then make tough budget choices."

Ehrlich also suggested the need for "Thornton II" legislation to address nonmonetary aspects of education. Such legislation would include a provision calling for charter schools, Ehrlich said.

Townsend, who campaigned yesterday in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, opposes charter schools. Ehrlich and Townsend will meet Thursday at Morgan State University for their first debate. The 80-minute debate begins at 7 p.m.

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