MARYLAND GOV. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) claimed credit in July for the state's revenue windfall of $1 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30. It reflected "some real talent running state government," he observed on Baltimore radio -- and never mind that 40 or more other governors reaped more revenue than projected, thanks to national trends. For now, at least, Maryland's revenue picture is still good, with more than $600 million unspent. That's no call for a spending spree, with state officials still projecting a $1 billion deficit by fiscal 2008. But it does afford Mr. Ehrlich a fresh opening to correct a hurtful, foolish decision he made to cut $7 million in Medicaid funding this year for newly arrived immigrant children and pregnant women.
An estimated 4,000 women and children were affected, and as reported by The Post's John Wagner, a disproportionate number were in Montgomery County. A day after announcing the $1 billion windfall and after a wave of complaints by lawmakers from both parties as well as health officials, Mr. Ehrlich did restore $1.5 million for coverage of pregnant women already enrolled in the program. But other pregnant women need not apply. Also left behind, and among those clearly deserving basic health care, are newly arrived -- legal, not undocumented -- immigrant children; as it stands, they are no longer eligible for coverage until five years after obtaining legal status.
Again, and rightly so, health care experts and even Mr. Ehrlich's advisory panel on Medicaid are complaining, as is Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), who put it bluntly: "I believe if you can prevent disease before you have problems, you should do that." Del. Jean B. Cryor (R-Montgomery), a member of the advisory committee, has written to Mr. Ehrlich, "imploring" him to restore the money. "All children, regardless of their immigration status, are deserving of basic health care in the United States," she wrote.
At least Mr. Ehrlich has not slammed the door on reconsideration. Spokesman Henry Fawell said Tuesday that the governor had received "many suggestions from many sources" about how to spend Maryland's windfall but no final decisions have been made. With a fraction of the unspent money, Mr. Ehrlich could, and should, reverse his pound-foolish decision.