Senate panel rejects USM-H funding cuts

March 24, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A Senate subcommittee has rejected a House panel's decision to cut funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown by $500,000.

Lawmakers in the Senate voted Tuesday in favor of honoring Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed $2.02 million budget for the Hagerstown campus -- a 1 percent increase over last year.

"We love and appreciate Hagerstown," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, vice chairman of the subcommittee that voted on USM-H funding Tuesday.

The Senate committee is expected to vote on that recommendation Friday, and lawmakers in the House will vote today on whether to approve a House committee's recommendation to strip the campus of $500,000 in the upcoming fiscal year.


The House recommendation also calls for funding to be reduced over the next four years, leading to what Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick, called a "slow death" for the Hagerstown campus.

C. David Warner III, executive director of USM-H, said he was "very pleased" Tuesday.

"The system did well today," he said.

If the House and Senate pass different funding recommendations for USM-H, the two sides will reach a compromise in conference. That is what happened last year when Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, who heads the House subcommittee that cut 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.

In its decisions Tuesday, the Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee also voted to reduce funding to the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center by $250,000 and cut a recommendation to increase funding for St. Mary's College in half. Both of those institutions are in Bohanan's district.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, called the removal of those funds a "bargaining chip" to be used when the USM-H recommendation goes to conference.

Munson said he expected lawmakers in conference to recommend a small cut similar to last year's result, but said he was pleased with Tuesday's recommendation.

"I've been working on that a very long time, and I'm delighted by the choice," he said. "I think and I'm hopeful that there will be sufficient money to keep the place thriving."

However, P.J. Hogan, vice chancellor of government relations for the University System of Maryland, said additional cuts to the system as a whole also could impact USM-H. The House committee has recommended about $20.8 million in system-wide cuts, and the Senate panel voted Tuesday to recommend that USM lose about $10 million.

Warner has said he would not speculate on what possible cuts would do to USM-H until final decisions are made on the Hagerstown campus budget and on the system budget.

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