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Business leaders concerned that campus linked to tax vote

February 25, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown business leaders are concerned that a proposed University of Maryland campus could be in jeopardy if local lawmakers vote against the governor's proposed tobacco tax.

"Is there a way to de-link the issue? I don't like the linkage," Dr. Robert J. Cirincione, chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, told members of the Washington County delegation on Wednesday.

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Gov. Parris Glendening is using higher education projects across the state as leverage in his push to get a $1-per-pack cigarette tax passed, said Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

"He's doing that to everybody," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Snodgrass said Glendening took an oath not to show partiality or prejudice against anyone in the state.

"I would remind him of that," she said.

All members of the county delegation have come out against the tax increase except for Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Hagerstown contractor C. William Hetzer suggested that lawmakers reconsider their votes.

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"You must learn to compromise in the position you're in now," Hetzer said.

But Sen. Alex X. Mooney said if he votes for the tax, Washington County business owners will blame him for the loss to their businesses.

"The governor won't just take a hit. We'll lose our elections over it," Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said.

A Glendening spokesman disputed the notion that the governor will be looking at a scorecard of who supports the tax when he evaluates the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Campus.

"The governor evaluates based on the benefits of the project for the state. He does not hold those kinds of grudges," said spokesman Don Vandrey.

Glendening has earmarked tobacco tax revenues for speeding up construction of research facilities at campuses across the state, he said.

Even though the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Campus is not on the list, it and other projects could be delayed if the tax doesn't pass.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the tax might fail under the political weight of opponents like Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

Munson has seen a letter from Miller saying he doesn't believe the tax increase will pass.

The letter was in response to a request from Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who said if the tax passes he would need more money to prevent cigarettes from coming into the state illegally.

Business leaders said they'll move forward with plans for the campus at Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike by meeting with Glendening.

They plan to ask him for $1 million in a supplemental budget.

It's too late to get the campus into the governor's proposed budget now under review by the Maryland General Assembly. The legislature has the power to add, but not subtract, from the governor's proposed budget.

Glendening has already agreed, if the money is available, to put $27 million in his supplemental budget for the University of Maryland's College Park campus, Vandrey said.

If that plan fails, it doesn't mean the end of the project, Munson said.

The University of Maryland could request the money as part of its budget.

"It might not be as quick as we like," Munson said.

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