Delegation infighting does no good in fight for USM-H funding

November 16, 2009

Last winter, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, with the support of fellow Republicans, decided it might be helpful to require a full-blown study of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus, an effort Del. John P. Donoghue, the county's lone Democrat, famously called "a waste of time."

Myers said the report would help the school identify potential improvements and financial efficiencies that would help it save or raise money, and argued the study would be an important shield against potential state funding raids next year.

Now, the task force assigned to investigate the downtown university has completed its work and to no one's surprise, it concluded that the school is operating just fine as it is. Its recommendations included some new proposals, but for the most part amounted to continuation of existing initiatives.

We stop short of echoing Donoghue's belief that the study was a waste. Bringing good minds together in search of improvement is a way of tilling the soil and fostering the germination of ideas.


But will the five-month study be effective in warding off attempted funding cuts that could severely stunt, or even close, the school? We'll know the answer in a few months.

If anything, the duly completed study will amp up pressure on local Republican delegates to stave off attacks on the school before they start.

If the funding battles of 2008 and 2009 return to the fore in 2010, the study will go down as one more needless legislative intrusion - recall the pointless "economic study" of the Funkstown bridge closure - that smacks more of political grandstanding than effective leadership.

But if budget committees see the work as a meaningful evaluation and keep their mitts off the school's budget, the idea will be worthy of high praise.

Donoghue, along with state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who has done most of the heavy lifting to date to keep the school funding intact, have sounded pessimistic about the chances for clear sailing in the 2010 session.

Del. John Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, has offered no indication that he's willing to give up on his mission to strip the Western Maryland school of its funding so that other schools - most notably one in his own district - can have more.

So probably the most effective action our local lawmakers could take at this juncture is to set aside the interdelegation feuds and get on the same page before the session starts. Even though some members of the delegation can barely stand to be in the same room as others, the school's interests must be compartmentalized into a no-squabble zone. Lawmakers need to get together, plan a unified strategy and stay on point. If that means having to share the same coffee urn for 90 minutes, so be it.

No one needs to be reminded of the state's financial mess and the fact that every single expense next year will be contested. If this legislatively mandated study is indeed the magic bullet, well and good. But we wouldn't count on it. What we do know for sure is the school cannot endure, and does not deserve, local lawmakers who spend more time fighting each other than they do battling, with one voice, those who would cheat us of this most valuable educational resource.

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