GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr. has a bold new strategy for dealing with the General Assembly - he's decided to ignore it. In Annapolis, he's already earned the title King Bob. We don't blame the governor for finding democracy inconvenient. But we have to wonder why he considers child labor laws such an onerous burden that he had to zero out the $317,000 budget for enforcing them.
Without fanfare, Mr. Ehrlich has decided to hold up funds for the Employment Standards Office - which is supposed to make sure workers get paid the minimum wage and children aren't abused in sweat shops. He's also closed the office that enforces the prevailing-wage law, the requirement that state contractors pay a fair market wage for skilled labor.
While the prevailing-wage law is probably worthy of debate, the governor hasn't offered one. Mr. Ehrlich didn't even submit a bill to repeal the law. Apparently, he prefers a more high-handed approach. The law is still on the books, of course, but now contractors who abide by it have no protection from less-scrupulous competitors willing to import cheap labor - at least until next year, when lawmakers will force the enforcement office to be restored. How bizarre is that?
The governor has also chosen not to fund $13.4 million in programs the legislature wanted to pay for with tobacco settlement money, including cancer research at the University of Maryland, adult literacy classes and challenge grants to troubled schools. This last, a program widely hailed as a success for lifting test scores, was a favorite of House Speaker Michael E. Busch. To Mr. Ehrlich, a chance to frustrate Mr. Busch, perceived as his prime nemesis on slot machines, must have seemed worth all the harm it will do to schoolchildren across the state.
None of the governor's moves was justified. The state budget is more than balanced - it's running a surplus that could exceed a half-billion dollars. The legislators' authority to fund some of these targeted programs was disputable, but their intent was clear. Mr. Ehrlich's decision to ignore their will and undermine existing laws gives new ammunition to those who claim Maryland invests too much power in one person - and would seek a constitutional amendment to restrain it.