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Hagerstown campus survives another obstacle

March 21, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Hagerstown's University System of Maryland education center project survived as a Senate panel recommended slashing millions of dollars from the state's capital budget Wednesday.

Although the $12.4 million project still faces several more hurdles, clearing the Capital Budget Subcommittee was a big one.

"In a very tight budget year it would have been easy to cut $13 million and the committee chose not to," said subcommittee member Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

It became apparent that Munson had been lobbying his fellow subcommittee members when the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center came up for discussion and several senators jokingly called for it to be cut.

"I know you all are just trying to give me a heart attack," Munson said.

Munson thanked his colleagues for their support for the project, which had already been delayed a year.

Also weighing to its advantage, the project had the backing of Gov. Parris Glendening, he said.

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"There's no question this project is going to revitalize downtown Hagerstown," Munson said.

Plans call for the renovation of the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street to begin in July. On that schedule, the Hagerstown Education Center would open in January 2004.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, warned that money for the education center and many of the other projects getting the nod Wednesday must be spent as promised or those projects would be at risk of being lost.

Next year, priority will be given to projects whose supporters agreed to step aside this year because they weren't ready to start construction, she said.

The project is also a pawn in a game of chicken being played between the Senate and the House.

Hoffman threatened cut some of the local projects approved Wednesday if the House tries to squeeze in money for bond bill grants to nonprofits.

"Then everything is on the table for them," she said.

If it comes down to a choice, Munson said he thinks the local bond bill requests, which include $1.2 million for Washington County groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and the American Red Cross, should be delayed.

"We can live without bond bills for a year but we can't live without this university because it might be the last chance we ever have," Munson said.

The education center must still win the approval of the Budget and Taxation Committee, the full Senate and go through a similar process in the House Appropriations Committee and the House of Delegates.

On Wednesday the subcommittee recommended millions of dollars in cuts to the $720 million capital budget, many of them targeted at Glendening's environmental and Smart Growth programs.

The panel sliced $15 million from the GreenPrint land preservation program, leaving $10 million. It cut $20 million from the statewide Rural Legacy program, leaving $11.6 million. It cut $10 million from the Community Parks and Playgrounds program, leaving $5 million.

The subcommittee voted to keep $19 million in the budget to finish renovation of the James Senate Office building and start construction on a new House Office building in Annapolis.

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