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State's budget woes must not derail downtown UM campus

January 24, 2002

State's budget woes must not

derail downtown UM campus



Maryland legislative leaders, faced with a governor who has near-total control over state finances, this week said that Parris Glendening has sent them the toughest budget they've ever faced. Lawmakers who were unwilling to curb the governor's sweeping authority last year should look at some more limited proposals to keep the state solvent.

The governor's $22 billion budget began with a $1 billion gap between revenues and expenditures. Glendening proposes to close that gap by not only delaying that last portion of a 1997 tax cut, but also by raiding state reserve funds and a variety of programs in the state budget.

One of those funds, according to Del. Robert Flanagan, R-Howard, is designed to help people get off welfare. Another is the state's transportation revenues, also tapped by previous governors.

When similar raids took place in the past, we objected, because we believe it's dishonest to tell citizens that gasoline taxes will pay for new roads and bridges if the governor can appropriate them for another purpose any time he chooses.

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We would favor a ban on such borrowing, unless at least two-thirds of the legislature declares that a statewide emergency requires it. We also believe that the state's "rainy day" fund, a cash reserve that's held to maintain the state's AAA bond rating, should not be accessed to close budget gaps.

Until the economy turns around, the State of Maryland has to decide what's essential and fund only that. In Washington County, what's essential is construction money for a new University Systems of Maryland campus in downtown Hagerstown.

The governor chose this site because he said it fit in with his "Smart Growth" anti-sprawl initiative. The community has come together to back that decision. The current problems with the economy will make it tougher to preserve that cash, but sometimes the hardest fights are the ones that yield the most valuable prizes. We hope our local lawmakers are ready to do whatever it takes.

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