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Campus funds put on hold

March 16, 2001

Campus funds put on hold



Annapolis

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Money for Hagerstown's University System of Maryland project is being put on hold in case the economy goes into a tailspin, state officials said Thursday.

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But Gov. Parris Glendening and local lawmakers said it doesn't jeopardize the end result: A University System of Maryland Education Center in downtown Hagerstown.

"I really don't think this can be interpreted in any way as 'the sky is falling.' Everything is proceeding," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who in the past has been critical of the state's handling of the project.

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Glendening's spokesman Michael Morrill said the governor and legislative leaders decided to withhold $130.5 million in projects because of concerns about the economy.

That way, the state won't have to cut its operating budget if the economy sours.

"This is an insurance policy that no one thinks we're going to have to use," Morrill said. "It would take the president talking us into a recession."

All but $870,000 of the $13.3 million project is being withheld. Asbestos work at the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street, where the education center is to be located, will move forward on schedule this fall.

All the projects will be reviewed in Dec. 15, when the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates releases its updated economic projections. At that time, the two budget committees will meet with the governor to decide which projects the state can afford.

As members of the budget committees, Munson and Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said they will fight to keep Hagerstown a high priority.

"If the economy tanks, a lot of things are going to go by the wayside for awhile," Munson said.

Hecht said the state needs to be cautious and fiscally responsible.

"We have to be responsive to an economy that's not as stable as it was a year ago. Nobody has that magic ball to see the future," she said.

Talk of delaying the project's start date to January surfaced in Hecht's committee in the last several weeks.

University System of Maryland spokesman Chris Hart said he had not been aware of the development and had no immediate comment.

Munson said he talked to the University System's project director, Mark Beck, who told him the delay will not be a problem.

Only projects that were scheduled to begin in January or later were considered for the list, Morrill said.

Some of the other projects being held up include a $14 million dental school building at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, a $7.4 million fine arts building at Towson University and $42.4 million for a new building at the University System of Maryland's Shady Grove campus.

The state is also withholding 25 percent of the funding for statewide programs to help business, agriculture and parks on the theory that the money would not have been spent before January anyway.

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