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Local campus survives state budget cuts

April 11, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A $150,000 grant to get Washington County's University of Maryland campus off the ground has survived the state budget ax, lawmakers said Sunday.

"I had faith that it would," said Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz.

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Lawmakers said the legislature recognized the campus as a worthy project.

"It was a project that could be easily sold," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Gov. Parris Glendening had put seed money for the campus in his $153 million supplemental budget earlier this month.

But last week, it looked like the campus was in danger of being cut.

Budget analysts said the project should go through the University System of Maryland's capital improvement program, a process that could take years.

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The legislature was faced with making deep cuts in the supplemental budget, which was tied to an increase in the cigarette tax.

Over the weekend, the Senate reduced the $1-per-pack tax proposal to a one-time 30-cent increase.

The House of Delegates approved the 30-cent tax Sunday evening, over the objection of five of six Washington County Delegation members.

Local lawmakers learned the campus money was safe from the cuts Sunday afternoon.

"We're really fortunate," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Hecht said she watched the conference committee hack millions of dollars from the budget.

"It got pretty heated there for awhile," she said.

One of the casualties was a $100,000 study for a veterans' home in Western Maryland.

Delegation members said their personal lobbying on behalf of the campus paid off.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said the delegation was able to convince the right people that the campus is important.

"Washington County isn't Baltimore. We don't ask for billions of dollars. We ask for what we need and we prevail," Donoghue said.

Delegation Chairman Robert A. McKee said one key legislator, Del. John F. Slade III, D-Calvert/St. Mary's, has a similar satellite campus in his district.

"In my mind it was a team effort. Everybody pitched in," McKee said.

Although the grant is less than the $800,000 the county had asked for, lawmakers said that wasn't important.

Any amount commits the state to following through with construction of the $12 million campus at Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike.

"It's symbolic," Munson said.

The Washington County Commissioners and a group of business leaders have promised to cover the shortfall.

Campus advocates want the first classes to be held there in the fall of 2002.

Hecht and Munson, both of whom serve on budgeting committees in the legislature, said they were disappointed that the veterans' home study was cut.

Both vowed to get the veterans' home study back in the budget next year.

The study was lost largely because it was mistakenly put in the wrong place in the budget.

When it was moved, it ended up in the heavily scrutinized supplemental budget.

It was difficult to argue for the study when a similar state-owned nursing home in Charlotte Hall, Md., has vacancies, she said.

Even with those vacancies, Hecht and Munson maintain there's a need for a home in Western Maryland to accommodate veterans who want to live close to their families.

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