Lawmaker won't oppose USM-H funds

January 07, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- A state lawmaker who tried to divert funding from the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown last year visited the campus for the first time Wednesday, promising not to ask for similar cuts this year.

However, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, did say he would investigate a wiser use of taxpayer money for higher education and said that some money for USM, including the Hagerstown campus, could be reduced.

Last year, as chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, Bohanan pushed to eliminate all $2.1 million for fiscal year 2009 for USM-H and spread it among several non-USM higher-education centers, including one in his district. Under the proposal, USM-H might have received $700,000.

The House and Senate negotiated a compromise that restored $2 million to USM-H.

Bohanan was in town Wednesday for a presentation and tour, at the invitation of Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who also attended.


Local officials and representatives of the University System asked Bohanan and Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico/Worcester, to spare funding and presented a five-year plan to increase revenue at the facility.

"I don't think we'll see a repeat of last year," Munson said.

The local representatives asked for the meeting last year, saying that Bohanan and Conway should see for themselves why funding the higher-education center was important.

Bohanan said that while he would not pursue funding cuts specifically for USM-H, he will be looking for more equitable state investment in higher education institutions statewide.

He told USM-H Executive Director C. David Warner III Wednesday that other centers provide the same services at only a fraction of the cost.

Conway also vowed not to single out USM-H during budget discussions.

Facing a $1 billion state budget deficit and anticipated budget cuts statewide, Bohanan questioned whether the public's money was being spent wisely at the campus.

"At the other centers, for the same end result, we're spending a lot less money," he said.

A non-USM higher-education center in his district spends about $400 per student -- compared with the $6,588 that is spent on every full-time student at USM-H.

"We do have some cuts coming, in general," Donoghue said, referring to the state budget.

Donoghue, Munson and other members of the delegation lobbied to have USM-H funding restored last year.

Donoghue said he does not favor a reduction in funds this year and that any cuts should be spread across all centers, not only the local campus.

Munson said he expects lawmakers will have to cut as much as $2.5 billion from the budget this year, and that it's possible USM-H's budget could be slashed along with other centers' budgets.

"I'm not happy, but it's something we may have to live with," he said.

As a result of last year's negotiations, it was decided that USM-H would provide a business plan, which Warner shared Wednesday.

He said the university plans to reduce its cost per student, reduce the state's financial commitment to USM-H, increase revenue and attract more students to the campus. Additional marketing and partnerships with local businesses also are part of the five-year plan.

Washington County Delegation Chairman Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, who also sits on the Appropriations Committee, was not invited to Wednesday's meeting.

"This isn't his district," Donoghue said. "This is no slight to anyone."

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