O'Malley assails Ehrlich on school funding

Campaign ad watch

September 07, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign released a strongly negative new television ad this week, accusing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of insufficient school funding and criticizing his opposition to a minimum-wage increase and his stand on the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rate issue this year.

What it says: The ad shows a smiling image of Ehrlich on a white background with the words, "Can we REALLY trust Bob Ehrlich on education?" floating next to him.

An announcer says Ehrlich broke his promise to fully fund an education spending formula, known as the Thornton plan, cut $176 million for school construction and increased college tuition by 40 percent.

"No surprise from a governor who opposed a $1-an-hour increase in the minimum wage, who sided with the big corporations to raise utility rates and to deny middle-class workers health coverage," the announcer says.

"Bob Ehrlich. A record of siding with powerful corporate interests instead of families like yours," the announcer says while a picture of Ehrlich and President Bush appears on the screen.

The facts: Ehrlich has increased K-12 funding by $1.4 billion, a record amount, but he has not funded a component of the Thornton plan designed to compensate districts where the costs to educate students are higher.

Ehrlich has said that part of the plan is optional and has a letter from the office of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (O'Malley's father-in-law) to back him up.

The governor, who faced a budget crisis when he took office, proposed during his first three years in office spending less than the $250 million level recommended by a state commission.

This year, Ehrlich proposed a level of spending that would meet the commission target, and he raised his estimates for future construction funding.

The University of Maryland System Board of Regents sets tuition, not the governor. However, tuition at Maryland's public universities increased markedly during Ehrlich's term as he cut funding to the university system to balance the budget. Tuition has increased by more than 30 percent at every campus except Coppin State, and increases at some have topped 40 percent. The O'Malley campaign calculates the 40-percent figure based on a weighted average that takes into account the fact that some of the biggest increases occur among the largest campuses.

This year, Ehrlich provided the largest-ever increase in higher education funding, and he has doubled need-based aid for students.

Ehrlich did oppose a $1 increase in the minimum wage, a proposal he said was bad for business. The General Assembly enacted it over his veto.

The governor had no role in establishing Baltimore Gas and Electric's 72 percent rate increase this year, nor was he in the legislature when it approved the deregulation plan and rate caps that led to the increase. However, many Democrats and a few Republicans criticized him this spring for not being a more aggressive advocate for consumers.

Ehrlich opposed a bill that would have required Wal-Mart to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on employee health care or give the difference to the state to expand Medicaid. Ehrlich vetoed the bill, and the General Assembly overrode him. A retail industry association sued, and a federal judge threw out the law.

Analysis: Ehrlich has run a series of increasingly negative ads about O'Malley's record on education. The mayor has counterattacked on two fronts recently. Last week, he began airing an ad pointing to progress in the city -- and its schools -- and now he is taking a swipe at the governor's credibility on education and other pocketbook issues.

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