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Md. Senate president wants full funding for University System

March 21, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Thursday he favors keeping the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown's budget at $2.1 million, its proposed amount before a House subcommittee made cuts.

Miller expressed his support the same day the House gave final approval to a state budget including $1 million for the Hagerstown campus, plus about $700,000 more possible through the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC).

The Senate, though, in its final approval of the state budget left the USM-Hagerstown budget at $2.1 million for fiscal year 2009.

The gap will be resolved when representatives from the two chambers meet, probably next week, to settle differences between their versions of the state budget.

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As an adviser, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, will be part of that conference committee.

Munson has said the Senate is likely to stand firm at $2.1 million.

Miller agreed.

"I support the Hagerstown center and I'd like to try to get the (approximately) 2 million dollars restored as quickly as we possibly can," Miller, D-Calvert/Prince George's, said in an interview Thursday.

Therefore, USM-Hagerstown's chances for a fully funded budget seemingly would depend on the stance House members take on the conference committee.

Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico/Worcester, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Thursday night he hadn't decided who will be on the committee, but expected to know today.

Last week, an Appropriations subcommittee removed all $2.1 million from USM-Hagerstown's budget and moved it to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

MHEC would distribute that money among USM-Hagerstown and six centers outside the university system. Hagerstown's share was estimated at $700,000, although funding at any level wasn't guaranteed.

On Wednesday, an amendment by Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, to redirect $1 million from USM's main office to USM-Hagerstown was approved on the floor of the House.

With $700,000 from MHEC, USM-Hagerstown would get a total of $1.7 million next year, $400,000 less than it budgeted.

USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan criticized the $1 million transfer, saying it could "cripple" USM's main office.

"I think what people were trying to do is accommodate Delegate Donoghue," Del. Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, the House speaker, said Wednesday. "If Delegate Donoghue wasn't so respected here, I don't think there would have been any funds restored at all."

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, the chairman of the subcommittee that cut USM-Hagerstown's budget, has said it helps fix what he sees as a funding disparity hurting non-USM centers, including one in his district.

USM-Hagerstown supporters say the non-USM centers are different and can't be compared to the Hagerstown campus.

Washington County government and business officials have urged local residents to send e-mails to key state lawmakers and lobby for USM-Hagerstown.

The latest plea went out Thursday through the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

"We have made some headway, but now that the budget is heading to the Conference Committee, we need to redouble our efforts," the chamber's e-mail says.

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