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State budget includes Hagerstown campus

April 09, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Narrowly averting a stalemate in the final hours of the 2002 session Monday, lawmakers agreed to a capital budget that earmarks $12.4 million for Hagerstown's university project.

The $720 million capital budget was passed by the Maryland General Assembly late Monday, as the body prepared to adjourn for the year.

Washington County nonprofit groups lost out in the tense negotiations between House and Senate leaders that began over the weekend.

Lawmakers cut $15 million for grants to local nonprofits - including $750,000 for four Washington County groups - but agreed to give them special consideration next year.

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The House fought for the grants, but the Senate refused to give in.

Washington County lawmakers were not surprised given the tight budget situation.

"I guess I would say that's the reality of this session. It certainly would have been nice. They were legitimate requests that are necessary to the individual organizations," said delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

The University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center did not come up for negotiation since it already had been approved by both the House and the Senate.

Approval will allow the University System to begin renovating the Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown this summer. If all goes as planned, the first classes would be held there in January 2004.

The two chambers disagreed on how much to spend on Gov. Parris Glendening's Smart Growth initiatives and higher education projects.

Lawmakers ultimately agreed to set aside $42.5 million for land preservation and downtown redevelopment programs. That includes $15 million for Rural Legacy, $16 million for GreenPrint, $6 million for Community Legacy and $5.5 million for Community Parks & Playgrounds.

As sundown approached, a dozen lawmakers gathered around a conference table to hash out their differences.

In the background, they could hear the shouts of dozens of Morgan State University students imploring them to budget $3.1 million in design money for a new school library.

"What do we want? Library. When do we want it? Now," they chanted.

Lawmakers agreed to allow the university to proceed with the library planning, but voted to defer the $52 million funding until next year.

Students were not happy with the compromise and continued their protest outside the State House, saying that historically black colleges have been consistently underfunded.

The final standoff between the House and the Senate negotiators came over the $15 million in local projects.

"We've made concession after concession. What do you want us to do, beg?" said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore.

Lawmakers dickered over individual words. The House wanted to give "priority" to the local projects next year, but the Senate wanted "special consideration."

Eventually, the Senate won.

The four Washington County projects that were deferred until next year are:

- $250,000 for the American Red Cross of Washington County toward its new headquarters building off Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.

- $200,000 for Associated Builders and Contractors of the Cumberland Valley toward renovation of the former Armory Building in downtown Hagerstown.

- $200,000 to help Girls Inc. of Hagerstown build a new gym at its Washington Avenue center.

- $100,000 to help the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County build a new gym at Noland Village public housing complex in Hagerstown.

"They're going to be given first priority next year. I do believe that if they understand they'll have first priority next year that they can plan to survive for that year and move ahead," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who was an adviser to the conference committee.

The budget talks represented one snapshot of a final day that was at times chaotic and other times achingly slow.

The House and Senate were in session all day but took frequent breaks for negotiations on the budget as well legislation about which they disagreed.

Because all of Washington County's bills had passed by Friday, local lawmakers had few worries.

Western Maryland lawmakers joined their staff members for a potluck lunch and traded parting gifts.

Lawmakers acknowledged that some of them won't be coming back to Annapolis next year, depending on the outcome of the November elections.

For the first time in his eight years in Annapolis, McKee documented the last day with a point-and-shoot camera.

"It's something I haven't done before. You may not be here next year to do it," he said.

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