Bank it

November 04, 2003

WITH ALL THE angst over Maryland's billion-dollar budget deficit, double-digit tuition hikes and transportation trust fund woes, it's a wonder that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is hopping on a plane today for a five-day trip to Israel, courtesy of Maryland taxpayers. That's a sure $52,350 - the cost of business-class airfare, accommodations and food for the governor and 11 state employees - Mr. Ehrlich could just as easily save as spend.

That sum could ensure a year's worth of health insurance for children in 1,000 families that can't afford newly imposed premiums in a state program.

Overseas trade missions such as the "Business & Economic Development, Homeland Security Tour" are a luxury the state should not be bankrolling now. They became an attractive - some would say essential - economic development tool for states in the boom-boom 1990s, and we expect Mr. Ehrlich to avail himself of this gubernatorial perk at some point. Israel, despite its battle-fatigued economy, would be a likely destination: 18 Israeli companies have offices here, and Maryland annually exports about $70 million in goods there. But these are times for picking up the phone, not hopping on a plane.

Mr. Ehrlich's focus now should be on the state's fiscal crisis, not improving business relations in the Middle East.

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