Ehrlich upbeat about legislative agenda

But he warns lawmakers not to try to grab power

General Assembly

March 18, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gave an upbeat assessment of the state of his legislative agenda yesterday, but warned lawmakers about "very troublesome" attempts by the General Assembly to encroach on executive powers.

In an unusually wide-ranging news conference on the second floor of the State House, Ehrlich said he was pleased by the progress being made on several of his high-priority proposals - including transportation, environmental and ethics initiatives.

Appearing confident and relaxed, Ehrlich boasted that he had beaten back what he called politically motivated attempts to weaken his administration.

"We're stronger now than we have been. We're more entrenched. We're more comfortable," he said. The governor added that he was "pretty pleased with the events downstairs" - a reference to the first-floor legislative chambers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the Assembly is reaching out to the governor. "His initiatives were fairly limited but most of them can meet with success," Miller said.

Ehrlich's comments came after a run of positive developments in the Assembly, including House committee approval of his bills to raise transportation revenue and to put a fee on water bills to finance sewer treatment upgrades and clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

He expressed optimism that those bills, along with measures to preserve a tax credit for historic preservation and to tighten the ethics laws governing lobbyists, would win final passage.

He was less hopeful about the prospects for his administration's bill to make witness intimidation a felony in Maryland with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The bill was killed in the House Judiciary Committee this month.

Ehrlich said the administration was trying to persuade committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. to waive the panel's longstanding rule against reconsideration of a defeated bill. But he ruled out supporting a ban on assault weapons in exchange for reviving the bill.

The governor also decried what he called "the raw enthusiasm for limiting the executive powers" in the Assembly this year.

Ehrlich's comments came the day after the House passed a bill limiting the powers of the governor and the Board of Public Works to make spending cuts without input from the legislature. Last week, the Senate defeated a constitutional amendment giving the Assembly new budget powers at the expense of the governor - a measure that may be reconsidered this month.

Miller said the efforts to limit executive power reflect a difference in emphasis between Ehrlich and the Democrats who dominate the legislature.

"We think K-12 is very important. We think constructing public schools is important. We think avoiding doubling of students' tuition is very important," Miller said.

Herbert C. Smith, professor of political science at McDaniel College in Westminster, said partisan tensions were at an all-time high in Annapolis, but he added that the governor must share some of the responsibility.

"Ehrlich doesn't govern in a bipartisan fashion. He shouldn't expect the General Assembly to legislate in a bipartisan fashion," he said.

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