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University System of Maryland funding battle resurfaces

February 15, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

A battle over funding for University System of Maryland regional centers, including one in Hagerstown, has resurfaced, four years after it was first waged.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary’s, again is proposing a change in the funding system, so six centers outside the university system, including one in his district, get money comparable to what the two USM centers get.

The funding disparity has sparked budget fights in recent years.

But Bohanan said Wednesday that his cause remains virtually ignored after multiple attempts to change the state budget, so he’s trying again through legislation.

Bohanan’s bill virtually guarantees another tug-of-war like the ones in recent legislative sessions that threatened to cut a large chunk of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown’s operating budget.

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In 2008, Bohanan, the chairman of a House budget subcommittee, tried to redirect about two-thirds of USMH’s $2.1 million, a funding level that could have forced the campus to close. Late-session negotiations restored almost all of the money.

Similar tussles broke out in subsequent years, including one last year that center on USM’s central office.

Although Bohanan did not have estimates available Wednesday, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said USMH could lose about $1 million of its $1.8 million budget, if Bohanan’s new funding structure is approved.

Others in the delegation were caught off-guard by Bohanan’s bill. Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the delegation chairman, quickly spread the word through the county’s lobbying coalition, which has readied itself to lobby against the bill.

University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan said he also learned about Bohanan’s bill this week, calling it “disappointing.”

“I feel like it’s Groundhog’s Day all over again,” Kirwan said.

The chancellor promised to fight again to keep the Hagerstown center’s budget intact.

Kirwan said Bohanan can stand up for funding for a higher education center in his district, but “but don’t do it at the expense of the other centers.”

USMH is one of two regional higher education centers in Maryland’s university system. The other is at Shady Grove.

There also are six centers outside the university system.

Bohanan said the two USM centers get about $6 million combined a year, while the six non-USM centers get about $1.5 million.

When he tried in the past to pool higher education money in the budget, then divide it, the cuts to USMH have been mostly restored after a good deal of wrangling.

Instead, non-USM centers have been promised more money, but the funding doesn’t get there, Bohanan said.

“It’s a clear case of two different classes ...,” Bohanan said. “There’s been zero attention to this issue.”

His bill proposes a new funding formula for all of the regional centers, both inside and outside of USM, starting in fiscal 2014. Each center would start with a $200,000 base allocation and get additional money based on student enrollment, leased space and special funding “for one-time projects or start-up costs.”

Bohanan said this would ensure that funding among the eight centers is more balanced.

Serafini said there is still no firm calculation of how much USMH could lose.

In Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget, USMH is scheduled to get $1,891,592, the same amount as for fiscal 2011 and 2012.

In briefings on the USM budget during the last few weeks, there was no sign the USM centers could face another budget battle.

It didn’t come up when Kirwan appeared before Bohanan’s subcommittee.

During Washington County day in Annapolis last week, James F. Kercheval, the executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, met with Bohanan to talk about education. Kercheval said Wednesday that Bohanan did not mention his bill.

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