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The Nose

Balanced, Sustainable

www.joeff.com
Ehrlich

Posted 1/25/2006

If there’s one thing Gov. Robert Ehrlich cannot stand, it’s made-up quotes. Last year he accused Sun columnist Michael Olesker of printing “false quotes, made-up quotes” and committing other journalistic transgressions. He forbade state employees from talking to Olesker or Sun state political editor David Nitkin, whose reporting Ehrlich found offensive. The ban continues, though Olesker resigned under pressure recently after City Paper raised questions about similar phrases that appeared in Olesker’s columns and other reporters’ news stories (Media Circus, Jan. 18).

But Ehrlich’s intolerance for “made-up quotes” does not, apparently, extend to those his staff puts in his mouth.

Consider the press release accompanying the governor’s budget submission for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

“Since taking office, we have turned $4 billion in inherited deficits into a $1.2 billion surplus through prudent fiscal management,” Ehrlich said, according to the press release.

But the governor did not say those words—at least not at the Jan. 17 press conference unveiling the budget.

What the governor said was, “this is a fiscally responsible budget reflecting the fiscal responsibility we have brought to Annapolis.”

This year’s bogus gubernatorial quote was different from the ones proffered during the previous two years, but the press release begins with a familiar ring as well:

“ANNAPOLIS - Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., today submitted a balanced, sustainable FY 2007 operating budget. For the fourth consecutive fiscal year, Governor Ehrlich balances the State budget without raising sales or income taxes, while making record investments in education and health care.”

Compare that “balanced, sustainable” prose to the release from Jan 19, 2005:

“ANNAPOLIS - Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. today introduced a balanced, sustainable $25.9 billion operating budget that includes a record $432 million increase in K-12 education funding. . . . ‘This sensible, balanced budget allows us to meet core government obligations during challenging fiscal times,’ said Governor Ehrlich. ‘My budget makes substantial investments in K-12 education, school construction and assistance to the disabled, while increasing the State’s Rainy Day Fund. Having resolved $4 billion in deficits since assuming office, I am proud to say this budget includes no sales or income tax increases on working Marylanders.’”

Then there was the release dated Jan. 21, 2004:

“ANNAPOLIS - Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., today submitted a balanced, sustainable Fiscal Year 2005 operating budget that includes a record $326 million increase in K-12 public education funding. . . . ‘This sensible, balanced budget allows us to meet core government obligations during challenging fiscal times,’ said Governor Ehrlich. ‘This budget makes substantial investments in my personal priorities, including K-12 public education. . . . ’”

In his 2006 press conference, Ehrlich referred repeatedly to the $4 billion deficit he said he inherited from former governor Parris Glendening. “The first few meetings of our budget group were some of the most painful moments of my public life,” Ehrlich confided to the 50 or so reporters gathered in his second-floor reception room. “In fact, it was dire.”

Yet that “$4 billion” in deficits that Ehrlich discovered in late 2002 made no appearance in the Jan. 17, 2003, press release unveiling his first budget.

The deficit back then was said to be $1.8 billion:

“ANNAPOLIS - Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. today submitted a balanced, sustainable FY 2004 budget plan to the Maryland General Assembly. The Governor’s budget includes sensible solutions to the state’s combined FY 2003 and FY 2004 $1.8 billion budget deficit, while funding the core programs that serve Maryland’s less fortunate citizens and increasing net state aid to local jurisdictions.”

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell explains the apparent discrepancy this way: “The $4 billion, that’s a plural. In other words, that’s the combined number of annual deficits.”

The Nose feels compelled to point out, though, that in 2004 and ’05 the governor was not “inheriting” any budgets from the previous administration; all budgets after 2002 were put together by Ehrlich’s own administration.

Oh well, $2 billion, $4 billion; what’s the difference? The important thing for us to remember is that the governor’s proposed budgets—every one of them, including this year’s $29 billion-plus blockbuster—are “balanced, sustainable” budgets.

And you can quote him on that.

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