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State budget may pinch area

January 16, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - From a possible tuition hike at Hagerstown Junior College to an increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's 1998 budget could affect Washington County residents, lawmakers said.

Glendening on Wednesday unveiled his $15.5 billion state spending plan, which includes $78.9 million for county schools, libraries, roads and police.

The county's 3.8 percent increase was tied for the fourth lowest among proposals for the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City.

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"It's better than nothing, but it's pretty close to nothing," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, a member of the key Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Glendening earmarked $62.1 million for the county's primary and secondary schools - about $1.9 million more than county schools received from the state this fiscal year.

But Hagerstown Junior College's state funding would decrease by $26,000, due to a new state funding formula that resulted in proposed decreases for 11 community colleges, mostly in rural areas, across the state.

HJC President Norman P. Shea said his school also was hurt because the formula is based on tuition levels two years ago - a time when the school lost about 100 students when the federal government stopped paying for Pell Grants for prisoners to take classes.

"We've had a double whammy," Shea said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he's concerned that flat state revenues for HJC could force the school to hike tuition, which could further reduce enrollment and hurt future state appropriations. He said he supports legislation to increase funding to the rural areas colleges by changing the funding formula.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, warned that trying to change the formula might be difficult because the state constitution allows the General Assembly only to cut from - not add to - the governor's appropriation.

Another area of the budget some local lawmakers fear would have an adverse local impact is Glendening's proposed doubling of the state's cigarette tax to 72 cents per pack. Glendening said the tax would raise revenue and prevent children from smoking.

"I want to prevent the teenagers of Maryland - our children - from ever taking up the deadly habit of smoking," he said during his State of the State address.

But some local lawmakers said Glendening's strategy is misguided, especially in an area like Washington County, where a short drive would take a smoker into a state where cigarettes would be cheaper.

"People are going to go to Falling Waters (W.Va.) or Greencastle (Pa.) for their cigarettes," said Donoghue, who chairs the county's legislative delegation.

"It's not going to prevent them or keep them from smoking," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

One local supporter of the cigarette tax, Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, agreed that some people might drive to other states for their cigarettes. But Hecht, a former smoker whose father died of emphysema, said the reward will be fewer smokers and more money in the state coffers.

"I think it's a price we can afford," Hecht said.

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