Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) are headed for a showdown in Annapolis in coming weeks over transportation.

At issue is a proposal that Duncan has made his top legislative priority, a bill that would allow Montgomery County to tack a local surcharge onto the state's vehicle registration fee.

The fee would cost county residents $70 for every vehicle they register and raise $261 million for Duncan's plan to tackle the county's traffic woes with new roads, buses and trains.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan testified against the local surcharge before a Senate committee on Tuesday, saying that allowing local jurisdictions to piggyback on state-imposed fees would be ill-advised. The prevailing wisdom in Annapolis still gives the measure a strong chance of passing the Senate, as it has in the House. Which means the proposal will rise or fall on an Ehrlich veto.

This tussle has a back story. The two politicians may have appeared chummy in front of crowds in Silver Spring this week, but Duncan has been bashing Ehrlich for months for, in his words, "destroying transportation in the state."

The attacks serve as a reminder that Duncan will likely be among those vying to challenge a 2006 Ehrlich reelection bid. With that backdrop, Ehrlich must decide whether to help Duncan finance his signature initiative. Duncan does not sound optimistic.

"He's doing everything he can to try and kill it," he said. "It's sad."

Word is getting around Annapolis that things look dire: Duncan is trying to round up enough backing to override an Ehrlich veto.

Denis Questions Money for Ad

Stop the presses.

Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Bethesda) says the county showed "poor judgment" in spending $20,000 on a full-page ad in The Washington Post that welcomes Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute to downtown Silver Spring.

The Post ad, which was published Monday in the newspaper's business section, cost $30,000, although the county paid $20,000. The other $10,000 was paid by Discovery, Denis said.

Denis said he mentioned his concerns to Duncan's aides and said he would talk to Duncan about it whenever he sees him next.

"It was an inappropriate expenditure and an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars," Denis said. "What was the purpose of this ad? We spent $20,000 at a time when we're looking for dollars."

The county is looking at a $320 million budget shortfall for 2004. Denis said the county ad in The Post "will raise the level of our scrutiny" during the budget process.

David Weaver, a spokesman for Duncan, said the county made a $150 million investment in downtown Silver Spring, and advertising is needed to bring people there to eat and see movies.

"We intend to market the heck out of Silver Spring," Weaver said. "Silver Spring is a huge urban revitalization story."

He added: "We support Mr. Denis helping us get free media."