By: Tim Baker

A LAND MINE ON THE MARCH TO GREATNESS

September 10, 1990

BEFORE YOU VOTE for state legislators tomorrow, reflect on the gaping $150 million shortfall in the state budget, which the governor announced last month. It threatens to stall the University of Maryland's promising start on its long march toward becoming a nationally prominent institution of higher learning and scientific research around which our state's future economy can be built.

The deficit's impact has already hit hard. For the first time in 15 years, the regents' original $1.5 billion budget request for 1992 .. failed to fund even inflation-adjusted fundamentals, such as routine increases in health benefits and basic equipment for long-planned new buildings.

In accordance with the administration's first set of budget instructions last May, the university's basic 1992 budget request at first called for $648.8 million in state funds, no increase over last year. The regents added a $75 million ''wish list,'' of which only $46 million would go for ''enhancements,'' including $11 million for College Park.

In the meantime, however, the deficit widened dramatically. In late August, the regents' original, sparse budget was dead on arrival at the administration in Annapolis. In fact, the governor promptly returned it with orders for the regents to reduce it by $38.9 million. He further instructed them to remove the same amount from this year's budget!

In effect, Governor Schaefer has chopped the University of Maryland's budget back to where it was two years ago, and has eliminated last year's hard-fought 6 percent increase in university funding. The deficit threatens to undo the progress which the university system has made toward excellence.

The deficit has hit other agencies and programs hard, too. The regent's pared-down budget proposal must now survive in a cut-throat competition for limited funds.

First, the Maryland Higher Education Commission will consider the regents' recommendations and then make its own suggestions to the governor. The commission can be rough on the UM budget. Last year, it recommended cuts. This year, Secretary Shaila R. Aery, Maryland's secretary of higher education, has already announced that she believes the state's priority ought to be early-childhood education.

Then the administration will consider all the recommendations, listen to earnest last-minute appeals, weigh the many competing demands, divide the shrinking pie and propose the administration's total 1992 budget. Last year, it kept the promise explicitly incorporated in Maryland's 1988 higher-education reform and proposed an 11 per cent increase for the university, even though there was no surplus with which to work. This year a huge deficit looms.

The governor will submit his budget to the newly-elected General Assembly when it convenes next January. In tight times it will face a fight. Last year, the legislature backed away from its own 1988 commitment and cut in half the governor's proposed higher-education increases. Two years of rapid budgetary progress came to a halt, and the result threatened to undermine the University of Maryland's impressive momentum. Now even that progress is in jeopardy.

When you vote for candidates for the state legislature tomorrow, consider their postions on state funding for higher education and remember the economic importance of world-class research universities in a global, knowledge-based economy.

rTC The $11 million which the regents have requested for College Park cannot be cut at all without damaging that institution's promising opportunity to leap ahead significantly in this decade and go into the next century as one of America's top ten public research universities.

In the Greater Baltimore region, voters should focus on UMBC. Its proposed Center for Photonics Technology if an example of what UMBC could mean to this area if we make the investment it needs to achieve its technological potential. Last year's budget and this year's each have allocated $100,000 for the center.

Photonics, the science which studies the uses of photons of light transmit signals, is one of the most commercially promising technologies. It possesses enormous potential across a wide range of high-tech applications, including communications, information processing, computers, sensors, radiant-energy generation, night-vision devices, magneto-optics and image processing.

To date, however, most advanced photonics technologies have been locked within military research installations and have not been commercialized into consumer products. According to a study by Charles River Associates in Boston, the science of photonics is about to explode out of the laboratory into the marketplace. Who will capture photonics' commercial benefits?

Last year, the governor had the foresight to fund $100,000 in early start-up costs for UMBC's proposed Photonics Center, which offers Maryland a carefully conceived opportunity to exploit the state's advantages in this important field.

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