Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed more than 60 bills into law yesterday but vowed to veto three he regards as too costly - setting the stage for a prickly off-session with lawmakers.
Flanked on the right by the Senate president who championed his slots-but-no-taxes platform and on the left by the House speaker who foiled it, Ehrlich was cordial during the 30-minute bill signing ceremony.
He thanked Speaker Michael E. Busch for wrestling with "quite complex" issues during the 90-day session of the General Assembly that ended Monday, and President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. for standing by him.
"We cooperated a great deal this session. There was a lot of give and take," the Republican governor told reporters, Cabinet members, delegates and members of the public.
State House cooperation produced 519 pieces of legislation for Ehrlich to sign; 64 of those bills became law with his signature yesterday. Most were local bills that drew little notice outside their district boundaries.
But the governor's pride was a $237 million package of transportation funding for road and transit projects across the state.
The bill will allow the start of "projects that have been long postponed, too long postponed in the state of Maryland," Ehrlich said.
But Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely contender for the governor's seat in 2006, said later that the bill "helps, but it's not close to being enough."
"It doesn't replenish the money he took out of the Transportation Trust Fund, so we're still in a hole," Duncan said.
House maneuvering that tabled the governor's Senate-approved slots machine bill, which was earmarked to deliver $800 million a year once in place, is to blame, said Miller.
Bills that Ehrlich has pledged to veto include a measure that holds down future tuition increases at state universities by temporarily raising the corporate income tax to help pay for higher education. A second closes a tax loophole while forcing Ehrlich to choose whether to grant companies amnesty for back-owed money. Another turns Maryland into the first state in the nation to guarantee a "living wage" of at least $10.50 a hour for employees of large contract-holders.
According to the legislative library, Ehrlich vetoed 19 policy bills last year. His predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, vetoed 35 in 2002, 18 in 2001 and 10 in 2000.
State Sen. Patrick J. Hogan said yesterday the tuition bill makes sense after increases put in place for academic years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005. Tuition climbed more than 30 percent at most state colleges and 35 percent at the College Park flagship.
"I think it is a clear choice between corporate profits and kids' tuitions. It doesn't get any simpler than that," said the Montgomery County Democrat.