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Munson says tax vote could sway Hagerstown campus funding talks

Md. senator votes to repeal computer services tax to protect campus funding

Md. senator votes to repeal computer services tax to protect campus funding

April 03, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- A new round of negotiations for funding Hagerstown's campus was canceled Wednesday, but Sen. Donald F. Munson said he hopes a tax vote he cast will inject new immediacy into the talks.

Munson, R-Washington, was the only Republican on a Senate committee Wednesday to vote for repealing a tax on computer services and instead create a new tax on millionaires.

He said the vote could lead to GOP backlash, but he did it to push for a solution to University System of Maryland at Hagerstown's uncertain funding.

The Senate is trying to protect the campus' full $2.1 million budget in fiscal year 2009.

The House approved a plan to distribute the $2.1 million to several higher education centers, including Hagerstown's, then give USM-H $1 million from within the university system.

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The latest House compromise, sharply debated Tuesday, was $1.6 million for the campus, which would have to make up the other $500,000 through rental fees and local government contributions.

Munson said that might not keep the campus open. He said a Senate counterproposal - $1.8 million guaranteed, with $300,000 to make up - was rejected Wednesday by Del. John L. Bohanan Jr.

Bohanan is a leading advocate of spreading the $2.1 million earmarked for USM-H.

The Senate and Budget Taxation Committee vote for the computer-tax repeal was 10-5, so Munson's vote didn't swing the outcome.

However, he explained in an interview later that he took a stand to apply pressure on the House in the USM-H talks.

He said he's been working with Gov. Martin O'Malley's office on keeping USM-H funding intact.

It was O'Malley's plan to tax millionaires so the unpopular computer-services tax could be repealed.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor's office has talked to Munson and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, about ensuring full funding for the campus.

"He'd like to see those dollars remain in the budget," Abbruzzese said.

How, though, is uncertain, now that the budget dispute is in the hands of a conference committee of House and Senate representatives.

Munson said O'Malley could lobby House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, to get the House to back away from cuts, and Busch could influence Bohanan.

"This tax (vote) affords me the chance to put a lot of pressure on (Bohanan) that I otherwise wouldn't have put on him ...," Munson said. "He's holding very tight."

Bohanan has said redistributing USM-H's $2.1 million helps address a funding inequity hampering six higher education centers outside the university system, including one in his district.

Those centers serve many more students than USM-H, but get by on a fraction of the funding, he has said.

After hearing about Munson's vote and statement in committee about trying to save USM-H funding, Busch said, "I think his vote sends a statement that he's trying to accommodate the budget shortfall."

He said he wasn't surprised Munson would ask the administration to back his cause.

"With five days left (in the session)," Busch said, "it spurs some debate."

It was unclear if the operating budget conference committee plans to meet today.

Munson said it was only the second time in 34 years in the General Assembly he voted for a tax increase, but he thought it was the best move for his district. He said no more than 41 people in Washington County would be affected by the new tax, and probably fewer.

His other tax-increase vote came in 2002.

Barbara A. Hoffman, the Budget and Taxation Committee chairwoman at the time, forced Munson to vote to double the state's cigarette tax in exchange for her support for the university campus and a Washington County airplane-service subsidy.

"Without my vote on the cigarette tax, there would be no campus," Munson said. "That's what Barbara Hoffman told me."

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