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Commuter air service takes a hit

March 08, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Hagerstown's university project may survive a key round of budget cuts, but Hagerstown Regional Airport's new commuter air service took a hit Thursday.

A Senate subcommittee recommended eliminating the $2 million subsidy for the flights that just got in the air Dec. 28.

Even if the Senate agrees to the cut, the House may restore the money because it's Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s brainchild.

Boston-Maine Airways of Portsmouth, N.H., a division of Pan American, bought $7 million worth of airplanes expecting to continue its service from Cumberland, Md., and Hagerstown to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, told fellow members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Ten to 12 people a day have been using the flights, he said.

"I hope we can review it a little later and maybe save it," he said.

Chairwoman Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, suggested that Munson find another place to trim the budget.

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Sen. Robert R. Neall, D-Anne Arundel, said his subcommittee on education, business and administration agreed to the cut reluctantly.

Neall's subcommittee proposed it only after learning that state revenues probably will be $250 million lower than expected.

The budget still contains $12.4 million for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

Even though the committee has not made its decisions on the capital budget, Hoffman said the project appears safe.

The committee is mainly interested in cutting projects that aren't ready to go, which isn't the case with Hagerstown's project.

"It probably will move forward. I wouldn't worry too much," she said.

Mark Beck, director of capital planning for the University System, said the project has survived a review by budget analysts.

"We're just moving ahead like there's no concern in the world because we're eager to get this thing started," he said.

If the budget is approved, construction could begin in July.

Meanwhile, money in this year's budget will be used to shore up the deteriorating Baldwin House complex, where the education center is to be located, and remove hazardous materials. That work is expected to begin in about a month.

Hoffman said none of the proposed cuts is set in stone. Most of the final decisions will be made Saturday and Monday and be presented to the full Senate on Wednesday.

"This is still a fluid process," she said.

The Senate's goal is to slice $400 million from Gov. Parris Glendening's $22 billion budget, she said.

The cuts have to go even deeper to ensure the state won't be setting itself up for problems next year, she said.

Glendening has found $1 billion in one-time sources of money that, if used, won't be available again, she said.

"You could get out your broom but there's nothing to sweep up," she said.

Glendening will continue to fight for his priorities in education, the environment and programs that help people, said his spokesman Michael Morrill.

"There's a long way to go. There's lots of pieces moving here," he said.

Hoffman said the cuts will hurt every jurisdiction, including her own. Subcommittees have recommended slashing millions for drug treatment and lead paint reduction in Baltimore.

"I think you have to lead by example," she said.

Other recommended cuts include:

- $7 million from the Community Legacy program, established last year to help revitalize downtowns.

- $3.2 million from the Maryland State Arts Council grant program, which would be a 25 percent cut that could affect the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in Hagerstown.

- $1.3 million from the Conservation Resource Enhancement Program, which pays farmers to make environmentally sound improvements. That would cut the program in half.

- $1 million of the $5 million program that buys textbooks for private school students.

- $450,000 from the Cover Crop program, which keeps it at the $2.5 million level it was funded this year.

- $48,850 for replacement vehicles at the Maryland Correctional Training Center prison south of Hagerstown.

- $23,046 to replace a van at the Potomac Center.

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