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Governor says don't cut campus funding

March 01, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Hagerstown's University System of Maryland education center project is in danger of being cut from the state budget, Gov. Parris Glendening's spokesman said Thursday.

But Glendening is urging the legislature not to delay the $12.4 million education center, his spokesman Michael Morrill said.

While the university project isn't being singled out for a cut, it's among numerous capital projects that some legislative leaders believe could easily be put off another year, Morrill said.

Glendening also is worried the legislature is targeting $101.2 million worth of land preservation and environmental programs including Community Legacy, Rural Legacy and Program Open Space.

Glendening criticized the possible land preservation and environmental cuts at an impromptu public appearance Thursday in Annapolis.

"The development pressures today are greater than ever. Once our land and natural resources are gone they are gone forever," he said.

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Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said budget decisions have not been made.

The committee won't start making cuts until next week. When the Senate is finished, the House will have its turn to cut.

Hoffman's committee has been working to find ways to trim hundreds of millions from Glendening's proposed budget. The amount of the cut will be determined by the latest revenue estimates due out next week.

The cuts are necessary to deal with a slowing economy and to preserve the last 2 percent of a phased-in 10 percent tax cut, she said.

The legislature also doesn't want to rely on one-time sources of revenue to the extent that Glendening is proposing, she said.

"It just puts off the problem for another year," she said.

Hoffman said the cuts need to be balanced between programs that affect people and programs that don't affect people.

"People understand that in your own finances - you can't take that trip you wanted to because you had to fix up the bathroom. You've got to react to your economic circumstances," she said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who serves on the committee, said he believes the University System project will survive budget cuts, which means renovation of the Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown could begin as soon as July.

Regrettably, some cuts must be made to land preservation and the environment, he said.

"These are easier cuts because they don't directly affect people," Munson said. "I just wish we didn't have to do this, but we do."

According to Glendening, the legislature wants to cut more than half of Glendening's proposed environmental and land preservation programs.

Program Open Space, which funds local park projects, would be cut in half, from $65.7 million to $32.9 million. Rural Legacy land preservation program would be cut by 70 percent, from $37.7 million to $11.3 million. And the entire $14.4 million Community Legacy revitalization program would be cut, according to the governor's office.

Also targeted for cuts are two farmer-oriented programs - the Conservation Resource Enhancement Program and the Nutrient Management Cost Share Program.

Glendening can't veto the budget, but he does have some bargaining leverage with the legislature.

He could veto the omnibus budget reconciliation act, a piece of legislation necessary to balance the budget. If that were to happen, the legislature would be forced to reconvene in a special session.

The first budget casualty came this week as House and Senate committees rejected a 7 percent salary increase for judges.

The Judicial Compensation Commission had proposed the pay raise to attract more attorneys to the bench.

Hoffman said the pay raises can be considered again next year, unlike pay raises for lawmakers, which can take effect only once every four years.

Under a plan that needs no vote of the legislature, salaries for legislators elected in November will go from $31,509 to $34,500 in 2003. Pay will increase by $3,000 a year in each of the next three years until it reaches $43,500 in 2006.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, filed a resolution to try to block the salary increase but Hoffman said Thursday it won't even get a hearing this session.

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