It’s not surprising that Maryland’s Republican Party would get behind an effort to overturn legislation that allows illegal immigrant students to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

In an e-mail to party faithful last week, GOP Chairman Alex X. Mooney wrote that the party backs a petition drive to force a public vote on the bill because the issue is “too important to be decided by a small group of legislators,” and that the state “cannot afford these unnecessary benefits for illegal aliens.”

But Mooney’s missive failed to mention that he voted in favor of an earlier version of the bill during his tenure in the state Senate in 2003. Mooney was among the 30 senators who helped pass the bill, which was ultimately vetoed by former GOP governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

When asked about the apparent inconsistency, Mooney said in a statement Thursday that he was voting for a different version of the bill “in an attempt to find a temporary compromise on the issue. Since then, it has become evident to me that the left is not interested in compromising and the federal government is failing to handle the issue.”

Mooney went on to say that he did not support the bill that passed the General Assembly last month and has signed the referendum petition to try to repeal it at the ballot box.

“I have long believed that controversial policy issues promoted by liberal Democrats in Maryland should be put to referendum for the voters to decide,” he added.

Mooney did not offer further explanation of his position in 2003. That version of the bill was much broader than the legislation this year, allowing students to qualify for in-state tuition as freshmen at four-year institutions, and would probably have cost the state more money.

Under the current version, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has pledged to sign, students would have to start their higher education careers at community colleges before transferring to four-year institutions. The requirements for students or their parents to provide proof of income tax filing are also more stringent under the 2010 bill.