Campaign Notebook

CAMPAIGN NOTEBOOK

Maryland Votes 2006

October 20, 2006

Governor pledges funds for schools

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pledged to spend $338 million next year on school construction, matching this year's level that was among the highest allocations in Maryland history.

Speaking at the groundbreaking of a new high school outside of Frederick, Ehrlich said population growth in the state -- expected to increase in the next few years with the national realignment of military bases -- demands increased investments in schools.

But the campaign of his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, called Ehrlich's promise an election-year gimmick designed to detract attention from his cuts to construction-funding earlier in his term.

"New schools in this state at this time, given the state of the economy and new technology, have never been more important," Ehrlich said. "With what we know is happening with [the base realignment], you have to go extra. It's the right thing to do."

Ehrlich said he would pay for his commitment by issuing $300 million in general obligation bonds and use state operating funds to cover the rest. O'Malley has said he would borrow money if necessary to meet his construction funding commitment.

A commission headed by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp concluded in 2004 that Maryland had a $4 billion backlog of school construction needs and that the state should spend $250 million a year to make up for it.

Ehrlich appropriated enough in this year's budget to meet the goal, but he fell short in construction funding in his first three years in office as he grappled with severe revenue shortfalls.

Members of the General Assembly were able to increase last year's construction funding past the $250 million mark by cutting elsewhere in Ehrlich's budget.

Because school construction relates to two of the biggest concerns for voters -- education and growth -- it has become a hot issue in the governor's race. O'Malley has steadily criticized Ehrlich for failing to meet the $250 million threshold.

O'Malley has promised if elected to spend $400 million for school construction next year to make up for the years when Ehrlich fell short of the goal and at least $250 million a year thereafter.

"We would expect nothing different from Gov. Ehrlich in an election year," O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said of the governor's pledge. "It's a good example of the two Bob Ehrlichs. There's the Bob Ehrlich who three weeks before an election commits to school construction funding, and there's the Bob Ehrlich who in every other year cuts school construction funding."

Andrew A. Green

Ehrlich gets a C in fiscal ranking

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s claims of having cleaned up the fiscal excesses of Annapolis took a blow yesterday when the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute said his fiscal management was no better than that of his predecessor, Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The institute gave Ehrlich a C in its biennial fiscal ranking of state leaders, saying he earned the mark for pushing a large state property tax increase in 2003 and increasing spending by 20 percent this year.

According to a Cato news release, the report favored governors who restrain spending and cut taxes, which it says are the ingredients of economic growth. Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said a low ranking from the Cato Institute is nothing to be ashamed of.

"The Cato Institute represents the far-right conservative establishment in Washington, and they recognize Governor Ehrlich is a different kind of Republican who governs from the middle," Fawell said. Ehrlich's score ranks him 22nd among the nation's governors.

The only governor to get an A was Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, who is a Republican. Six Democrats and 15 Republicans scored better than Ehrlich.

GOP decries anti-Ehrlich group

The Maryland Republican Party has filed formal complaints with the state Board of Elections and the Internal Revenue Service about a group running television advertisements critical of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The party says the Maryland Fund, which runs the Web site www.ehrlichisbush.com and has run television ads linking the Republican governor with the president, has violated state and federal laws by failing to disclose its donors or to include information in its ads disclosing their source.

Party Chairman John Kane said the fund may be coordinating its efforts with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign.

"This secret fund is illegally trying to hide its donors while deceiving the voters of Maryland with their intentionally misleading ads," Kane said in a statement. "This secret fund may be coordinating these illegal activities with the campaign of Martin O'Malley, and so we have asked state and federal prosecutors to look into any possible connection."

Both the O'Malley campaign and the Maryland Democratic Party have said they have no connection with the group. However, one of its founders worked on O'Malley's first mayoral campaign in 1999.

Andrew A. Green

Fur flies over call to target bears

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. authorized hunters to start targeting black bears, and animal lovers are out for revenge.

The political action committee of the Humane Society of the United States will begin airing television ads Monday to coincide with the start of the black bear season criticizing Ehrlich for lifting the 50-year ban on hunting the animals.

Western Maryland residents have long pushed for the black bear hunts to control what they see as a nuisance animal that has invaded residential areas, but animal rights activists in the legislature have tried unsuccessfully to ban the practice.

Andrew A. Green

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