Ehrlich allots funds for prisons

Black colleges also get boost under capital budget

`These are the priorities'

Crime lab, biotech center designated state money

January 24, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced a nearly $1 billion state construction program yesterday that he said would boost the number of sorely needed prison beds and funnel significant investments to the campuses of Baltimore's historically black colleges.

Ehrlich also proposed building a state police crime lab in Baltimore County and a biotechnology center in Montgomery County.

"These are the priorities of this administration," Ehrlich said during a news conference to release his first capital budget, which relies on $740 million in borrowing and $246 million in other funds. "If you got your project, you'll be happy. If you didn't get your project, you won't be happy."

Public safety projects, including prisons and the crime lab, would receive $123.7 million. The governor has proposed spending $224 million on environmental initiatives, including $95 million for local water and wastewater systems.

Nearly half of discretionary construction funds would go to education projects, Ehrlich administration officials said. The budget includes $102 million for public school classrooms, $49 million for a library at Morgan State University and $8 million for land acquisition at Coppin State College.

Ehrlich said the Morgan and Coppin projects fulfilled commitments he made during the campaign, and the funding decisions were cheered yesterday by the presidents of both institutions. In October, Ehrlich signed a pledge with African-American leaders, promising to appoint black judges and spend more at historically black schools.

"This recognizes our value to the city, to the state," said Coppin State President Calvin W. Burnett. "They weren't veiled or empty promises. This is the greatest support we've gotten in the 33 years since I've been here."

The Morgan library has been a contentious issue for years. The General Assembly removed the project from Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget a year ago, prompting a large student demonstration in Annapolis.

"We're very, very delighted," said Morgan President Earl S. Richardson. "This is a project the students felt so passionate about. He's showing them he meant what he said."

But the bricks-and-mortar plan reflects austere times. As recently as two years ago, the state was able to divert more than $600 million in tax dollars to pay for construction programs. For the coming year, the number will shrink to $13 million. The public school construction money is less than half of what it had been at its height.

"At some point, the golden age ceases to exist, and the bill comes due," Ehrlich said.

As expected, the governor is shifting money to priorities that are different from those of the previous administration. Correctional officials said the prison-building program Ehrlich wants to launch is the most ambitious in a decade. The state is housing 24,000 inmates, Ehrlich said, in space designed for 13,500.

The governor is proposing the addition of 256 beds at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, and 140 beds at the Eastern Correctional Facility in Somerset County.

At the state police headquarters in Pikesville, Ehrlich wants to build a 68,700-square-foot forensic laboratory for ballistics, toxicology, chemistry and other testing. The current lab, officials say, is too small.

State Police Commissioner-designee Edward T. Norris said the lab would help clear a backlog of DNA samples. He called the problem "a national disgrace."

Other Baltimore-area projects proposed by the governor include:

$25.3 million for fine-arts building additions at Towson State University.

$10 million for the Baltimore County Detention Center expansion.

$47 million for a new dental school at University of Maryland in Baltimore.

$15 million for Baltimore sewer improvements.

$3.5 million for Baltimore Zoo redevelopment.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.