Hagerstown campus caught in budget battle

USM-H funding could be cut by $500,000 in compromise

USM-H funding could be cut by $500,000 in compromise

April 02, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- A new funding proposal for Hagerstown's university campus is on the table in Annapolis, where delegates and senators are squaring off in a budget battle.

The Senate wants to protect the entire $2.1 million designated for University System of Maryland at Hagerstown for fiscal year 2009.

For the last few weeks, though, the House has favored spreading the USM-H money among several higher education centers outside the university system, with Hagerstown standing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On Tuesday, the fourth day of negotiations over numerous items in the state's next operating budget, House representatives put forward a compromise plan:


· The $2.1 million USM-H budget would be cut to $1.1 million, with the other $1 million divided among non-USM centers.

· Another $500,000 would be transferred to USM-H from within the university system, giving Hagerstown $1.6 million.

· The Hagerstown center would make up the $500,000 gap in its budget through contributions from local governments and by collecting rent, both from USM schools with programs there and community groups who use the building.

Senate representatives were strongly opposed, sparking perhaps the most heated debate since the conference committee started meeting Thursday.

"What's your plan for this place, to succeed or to fail?" Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard/Baltimore County, sharply asked Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, a proponent of splitting up USM-H money to benefit other centers.

Bohanan argued that it's unfair for six higher education centers outside the university system to share $850,000 when USM-H, with far fewer students, gets much more money.

"Do you do that successfully by looking to kill another center?" asked Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick.

"We are not looking to kill your center," Bohanan said.

Tuesday's pointed debate followed three straight negotiating sessions in which USM-H funding was put on hold without discussion.

The conference committee is scheduled to meet again today to go over several remaining differences between House and Senate versions of the budget.

The committee reached a compromise Tuesday on one other project of note for Washington County.

Conferees agreed to drop $14.8 million from the FY 2009 capital budget for a new Maryland State Police barrack in the Hagerstown area. Instead, a funding commitment will be put in the FY 2010 capital budget.

USM-H funding has been thornier.

The budget the House previously approved gives all $2.1 million meant for USM-H to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Under one possible plan, Hagerstown would get about $700,000, but the money wasn't guaranteed.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, secured $1 million on top of that, diverting money from the university system's main office, for a possible total of about $1.7 million next year.

Kasemeyer said Tuesday that it costs $935,000 just to maintain the Hagerstown campus building, which hosts six schools and 19 programs.

Brinkley added that the campus was meant as a centerpiece for the restoration of downtown Hagerstown.

Bohanan said the arrangement might not be cost effective. "Maybe we ought to get out of that building and move (the center) somewhere else," he said. "I don't know."

Last year, an extra $950,000 was approved in the state budget for non-USM centers, but the money was never released, said Bohanan, whose southern Maryland district includes one of those centers.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, sat in on the negotating session as an adviser, but didn't speak.

Afterward, he said of the new proposal, "I wasn't so happy with it .... This year, that would be a reduction of 500, 600 thousand dollars. That's going to damage us incredibly."

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