Lawmakers OK increase for colleges

Growth of 2.6% set for budget of university system

Keyed to Kirwan's arrival

Also, funds restored to city's court for early dispositions

March 31, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed yesterday to give the University System of Maryland a 2.6 percent budget increase next year, saying that denying the system new funding was not the proper way to greet a new chancellor.

Funding for Baltimore's Early Disposition Court also was restored during yesterday's all-day budget meeting, and Maryland's nonpublic schools were assured of receiving $3.75 million for textbooks next year.

Members of the House and Senate budget committees are expected to resume their work tonight, but by the end of last night they had agreed on cuts that left Gov. Parris N. Glendening's spending plan at about $21.6 billion - about $475 million less than when he had introduced it.

Both chambers are required by the Maryland Constitution to approve the budget by tomorrow, but it appears unlikely they'll finish in time - forcing the governor to sign an executive order to extend the legislative session if necessary.

During yesterday's discussion on higher education, Del. Howard P. Rawlings and other lawmakers said the recent hiring of William E. Kirwan as the university system's new chancellor prompted them to try finding more money for higher education. Kirwan, the popular former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, agreed last week to leave Ohio State University and return to Maryland.

"This is what we call the Kirwan factor," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "There is a lot of good will, and we want to add to the momentum of that good will."

The Senate had approved cutting the entire $31 million university system spending increase proposed by Glendening. The House had restored about $10 million of the cut - about a 1.1 percent budget increase.

But under yesterday's compromise, the system will receive about $22 million next year. About $16 million of that comes not from increased dollars but from the Assembly's reversal of a decision by the governor to take that amount from the system's reserve funds to balance the rest of the budget.

Another chance for court

In restoring the $2.5 million eliminated by the House from Baltimore's Early Disposition Court - which has been recently renamed the Court of Early Resolution - lawmakers said they were willing to give the program another opportunity. But they added tight reporting restrictions to the program, which has been a favorite of Mayor Martin O'Malley and a target of sharp criticism by Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

"This money comes with some new restrictions," said Del. Joan Cadden, an Anne Arundel County Democrat whose subcommittee had sought to cut off the funding. "The program was not working. But they have made changes, so we will give them a chance."

Textbook money

For Maryland's private schools, state funding for textbooks was restored in yesterday's budget conference committee - repeating what occurred last year.

The House had voted to eliminate the $5 million sought by Glendening for textbooks, while the Senate reduced it to $4 million. The Senate's amount was contingent on state funding going to public schools next year under the recommendations of the Thornton Commission.

Yesterday, budget negotiators agreed to cut the funding to $3.75 million and eliminate the Thornton contingency clause.

"It is a confirmation on the part of the legislature of support for the people who choose nonpublic schools for their kids and an affirmation of the contribution those schools make to the commonwealth," said Richard K. Dowling, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Other agreements reached during yesterday's negotiations include:

Providing relief to Baltimore's public defender's office, which has begun turning away clients because it says it is short of money and staff. Language added to the budget called for 13 new positions, including 10 attorneys, with the money coming from a future deficiency appropriation.

Deferring only $1 million of the $12.1 million proposed by Glendening for removal of lead paint from aging properties in the city. The House had sought to defer $1.25 million. The $1 million will be given to the city in the next fiscal year, lawmakers said.

Withholding $5.3 million from Prince George's County if the Assembly fails to pass legislation this year restructuring the system's embattled school board. The House had sought to withhold $34.1 million - all new state funding to the system - but was persuaded by the Senate to reduce the amount withheld. The $5.3 million would come from aid Prince George's receives as one of Maryland's less wealthy jurisdictions.

Adding language to the budget to thwart a threatened veto from the Glendening administration on continuing the use of a private company to run Baltimore's child support enforcement program. Both chambers have passed their own versions of legislation to extend the privatization, but they believe that the governor will veto it. Glendening cannot veto the budget.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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