HAVING SQUANDERED considerable political capital on a poorly piloted effort to bring slot-machine gambling to Maryland, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is now talking small-minded revenge: The governor is threatening to veto a $260 million package of revenue-raising proposals being worked out by the legislature to balance the next budget, including many proposals he previously agreed to. And how would this new hole in the budget be fixed? With "Plan B," he said yesterday. "Cuts." His list of immediate and future targets would include the Thornton Commission school aid plan, aid to localities, higher education, Medicaid, mental health coverage, the Maryland Children's Health Insurance Program, prison facilities, Head Start, substance abuse and still other programs that if cut could cost the state far more in consequences.
None of this needs to happen, nor should it. Gambling would have generated almost no money for next year's budget in any case. The House and Senate have worked hard to produce a revenue package that would not create the "dire" circumstances that Mr. Ehrlich says must occur because he has changed his mind on proposals that only recently seemed acceptable. Revenue options include a 2 percent tax on HMO premiums, higher corporate filing fees and a 10 percent increase in corporate income taxes. These are not attractive proposals, but they -- and not slots -- are the alternative to the no-more-revenue-raising, doomsday scenario of the governor.
If the governor won't budge, the legislature could simply leave it to him to cut the budget and take responsibility for the consequences. But a lot of people, especially but not only poor people, would suffer from such gamesmanship. Mr. Ehrlich's best option -- and his chance to show some leadership -- is to take a deep breath, work with the legislature, end the session on time and come back with the long-term revenue proposals that he has said will be coming next year.