Added funds for voting machines


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is proposing to spend an additional $28.5 million on optical-scan voting machines for this year's elections and lesser amounts in new expenditures for local road projects and health care.

The new spending is contained in a $59.5 million supplemental budget the governor released late yesterday, just as the legislative session enters its final two weeks and senators and delegates are already working to mold budget legislation.

"This supplemental budget provides resources to secure Maryland's election system with optical-scan voting machines and also makes critical investments in health care," Ehrlich said in a statement. "I look forward to working with all members of the House and Senate to ensure this budget is adopted."

The voting machine money would help pay for equipment capable of providing a paper trail -- a temporary replacement for the much-criticized Diebold touch-screen system. Those dollars are in addition to $21.8 million Ehrlich previously proposed -- an allotment that fell short of the State Board of Elections' estimated price of $39 million.

The new funds for transportation projects could help soothe irate municipal leaders across Maryland, who say the state hasn't come through with the money they need to pave roads and fill potholes.

That money totals $25.8 million. Only $15 million was included in the governor's supplemental budget. Administration officials agreed to add the remainder at a budget meeting late yesterday, but it was unclear where that money would come from.

"That's a significant breakthrough for the budget committee," Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, who has been pushing the administration to find the money. "That's been a burr under the General Assembly's saddle."

Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, praised Ehrlich's move to properly fund the voting equipment. By doing so, the governor is ensuring "a fair, safe and legitimate election," the senator said.

The supplemental budget also includes:

$5 million for the Prince George's Hospital Center.

$2 million for moving the Maryland Insurance Administration headquarters.

$2 million for outreach and assistance related to the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program.

$1 million for the Maryland Historical Society.

$610,700 in additional funding for the Infants and Toddlers Program.

$388,800 for 16 new law-enforcement vehicles for the new Natural Resources Police.

$150,000 for the National Congress of Christian Education to be held in Baltimore in June.

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