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House subcommittee recommends $500K cut to USM-H budget

March 19, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- The University System of Maryland at Hagerstown stands to lose $500,000 from its $2 million budget if state lawmakers approve a House of Delegates subcommittee recommendation made Thursday.

The recommendation would decrease USM-H's budget to $1.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year with the expectation that more cuts would be made over the next four years.

Those cuts would decrease USM-H funding to about $172,000, according to the budget analyst's recommendation. That would be consistent with non-USM regional higher education centers across the state, based on the funding formula used for those institutions.

Officials have said cutting the budget that much would force the closure of the campus, which offers 21 programs from six universities and enrolled 455 students as of the fall of 2008.

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The budget analyst's recommendation was made public Wednesday, and the subcommittee's decision is expected to be accepted, rejected or modified today by the full Appropriations Committee. USM-H funding then will be debated Wednesday by the House of Delegates.

C. David Warner III, executive director of USM-H, said Thursday a cut of $500,000 would have an effect on the downtown center, but did not want to speculate until a final decision had been made.

The cut

"Obviously, I'm disappointed in the size of the cut," Warner said. "In these economic times, I expected a cut, but I was hoping it wouldn't be that large. I have hopes still that the number will change."

That's what happened last year when Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, who heads the House subcommittee considering USM-H funding, pushed to eliminate all $2.1 million for USM-H in fiscal year 2009 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.

This year's recommendation is to take $500,000 from USM-H and return it to the state's general fund.

"None of this makes any sense to me," Warner said.

He said it was "unprecedented" for state lawmakers to recommend a state-funded USM center be funded at a level consistent with non-USM centers.

"It's unusual from my perspective to have USM-H, one single entity, targeted like this," Warner said. "I'm part of the University System. If they wanted to reduce the system budget and allow them to decide how to do things, that seems to be more appropriate than to target one entity in the system, like USM-H."

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he expected the subcommittee would recommend some cuts to USM-H funding Thursday, but said he and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, would work to restore as much as possible.

Donoghue said he planned to reach out to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Gov. Martin O'Malley to gain their support of USM-H funding.

"We will be successful," Donoghue said. "We're pulling out all the stops."

Munson said he was confident the Senate would act to maintain USM-H funding, and expected the funding decision could be a repeat of last year's compromise.

"Last year's resulted in a cut," Munson said. "So, this year if there's a cut ... there won't be any money left."

He said the recommendation to reduce the center's funding made "little or no sense."

Warner said he believes lawmakers' repeated attempts to cut USM-H funding are affecting student growth at the center.

Increased revenue

Another part of the subcommittee's recommendation requires USM-H funding be reduced to a level consistent with what a non-USM center would receive. The proposal calls for the Hagerstown campus to make up the loss in funding by generating its own revenue as other regional higher education centers do.

USM-H generates less of its own revenue than other higher education centers, but Warner said the center is not equipped to do the amount of fundraising the other centers do.

Other centers, such as the Universities at Shady Grove, which is a USM center in Montgomery County, raise money by renting out rooms and conference centers in their buildings. Joe Bucci, director of communications for the Shady Grove center, said the facility has a conference room that is used for a fee year-round.

"Our model is Shady Grove," Munson said Thursday. "And I just find it absolutely interesting that they're not picking on Shady Grove."

The Shady Grove center enrolls about 3,000 graduate, undergraduate, full- and part-time students, Bucci said, and is the largest regional higher education center in the state.

Bucci was unable to provide the center's operating budget or cost per pupil Thursday, but said he would provide the data today.

"We are the newest and youngest of the state's eight regional centers, and in our four short years, we have grown to the third largest," Warner said.

USM-H does raise some revenue, and the amount generated has increased steadily since its first full fiscal year of operation.

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