Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. selected his campaign manager yesterday to become Maryland's next budget secretary, responsible for shepherding the state's $22 billion budget through a time of significant economic uncertainty.

The selection of Chip DiPaula Jr., 40, brought a stinging response from leading Democratic lawmakers, who characterized him as woefully underqualified for such a crucial position and questioned whether he would stand up to scrutiny during the confirmation process.

"Other than the fact that he was loyal to Bobby Ehrlich, I don't see anything positive in this nomination," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's). "Most of the people we've had in this position have been [certified public accountants], people with a wealth of experience in dealing with budgets. With this guy, we have someone straight out of the Republican National Committee."

Ehrlich's camp said yesterday that concerns about DiPaula are "unwarranted and unfounded."

"He has extensive experience in the area of fiscal management and the re{acute}sume{acute} to back it up," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, Ehrlich's spokeswoman. "Chip's most recent position was as a campaign manager, but he has 20 years in fiscal management."

His re{acute}sume{acute} indicates that, before working for the GOP, DiPaula spent 10 years with a Baltimore real estate firm, overseeing the development of a $34 million retirement community. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Towson University. In 2000, DiPaula managed the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, a $65 million enterprise with a staff of 200.

DiPaula said he was confident he could handle the state budget job, because he believes the skills involved deal more with the ability to manage than with his comfort as a fiscal technician.

"We have a terrific team of professionals, analysts, budget officers," DiPaula said. "What we need is someone to work with them to carry out the governor's vision."

Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery) said she agrees that running a convention of that scale involves significant management skills, but she said that overseeing a state's budget demands an entirely different level of sophistication -- especially at a time when the state faces a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall in the next fiscal year.

"My concern is whether he can do this job, or will he be cutting his teeth on a budget that is in really catastrophic shape?" Ruben said.

The state's current budget secretary, T. Eloise Foster, had an MBA and nine years of experience in the state budget office when she took the job.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno (D-Anne Arundel) chairs the 19-member Executive Nominations Committee, which will review DiPaula's qualifications before sending nomination to the Senate floor. He said that the committee's tendency is to allow the governor to "pick his own team."

But he noted that the history of collegiality is not without exception. In 1995, committee members grilled Gov. Parris N. Glendening's choices for personnel secretary and secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.

Both Michael J. Knapp and Frank W. Stegman were trustees of a pension program that proposed paying generous severance packages to Glendening, Knapp and several other top aides who left government service in Prince George's County. The Senate ultimately approved the appointments on sharply divided votes -- with all but two Republicans against them.