Students stand up against Ehrlich cuts

October 26, 2003|By Tim Daly

THE UNIVERSITY System of Maryland is under siege.

Since last year, $121.7 million has been pulled out of the university system. As a result, more than 470 jobs have been closed, forcing hundreds of Marylanders to find new work. Tuition at the University of Maryland, College Park will have gone up more than 33 percent over two years by next fall, and that number is all but certain to rise again in a few months.

Never mind that before all of these increases, the cost of tuition at College Park was the eighth most expensive among public institutions in the Association of American Universities. In fact, the National Center for Higher Education and Public Policy gave the University System of Maryland a D minus in affordability last year. This was a downgrade from the D it gave the system in 2000.

The numbers speak for themselves.

When Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cut $208 million from the state budget last summer, higher education - the University System of Maryland plus Morgan State University and St. Mary's College - was saddled with more than 25 percent of that cut.

The USM was created to allow working and middle-class kids the opportunity to access quality higher education and be part of Maryland's knowledge-based economy. But Governor Ehrlich's decisions suggest he does not see public higher education in this way. Instead, he and his administration see it only as an opportunity for the most well-off of Maryland residents.

In fact, last summer, Mr. Ehrlich shrugged off the idea of additional tuition increases.

"When I see College Park increases tuition $800, and I'm not insensitive to $800, but it's $800, and College Park at $6,700 is the best deal in the universe," he was quoted as saying in the College Park newspaper, The Diamondback.

Totaling all of the increases in tuition, mandatory fees and costs for living on the College Park campus, Maryland residents will be forced by next fall to pay close to $2,000 more for their public education than they did merely nine months ago, not just $800. These tuition increases are spiraling out of control.

I understand that everyone has to pay his or her fair share. I understand that we are in a budget crisis and everyone must make sacrifices. But Governor Ehrlich's deficit reduction plan favors the well-connected and hurts the middle class. These disproportionate cuts are not fair. They are not even close.

It's time that people across this state tell Governor Ehrlich that enough is enough.

It's time that he stops pandering to his corporate political contributors and starts generating tax revenue by closing corporate loopholes such as companies located in Maryland avoiding taxes by setting up "headquarters" in tax-free Delaware.

It's time that Governor Ehrlich comes to terms with the fact that Maryland is a low tax state, and that if we raised income taxes by just 1 percent, the tax for Marylanders who earn more than $1 million annually would generate more than $70 million in just one year.

It's time for Governor Ehrlich to face the fact that his campaign pledge not to raise taxes or lay off state employees is already broken. Because that's what these tuition increases are - tax increases for middle-class Marylanders who do not receive financial aid because Mr. Ehrlich's budget does not provide enough money to meet the state's financial needs.

I filed paperwork with the state of Maryland to create a political action committee. My fellow students and I can no longer sit idly, or be assured by the governor's administration that the tuition increases we are seeing are not all that bad.

I have pledged to raise more than $50,000 in this campaign so that we can take our message from college campuses to every household in this state, until the Ehrlich administration finally gets it - higher education must be a priority.

We formed the Student Citizens Action Network because we no longer have a friend or even a concerned governor when it comes to higher education issues. Instead, we have Public Enemy No. 1.

Tim Daly is student body president at the University of Maryland, College Park and chairman of the Student Citizens Action Network.

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