Capital budget includes college, water projects

Ehrlich's proposal would give $145 million to city

General Assembly

January 28, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Even as they continue to sort through the pain inflicted by the governor's lean operating budget, county and university officials learned yesterday that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants to spend $847 million on college buildings, water-quality projects, prisons and other construction in the budget year that begins July 1.

Ehrlich released a capital budget that includes $194 million in projects at colleges and universities, which have been hit hard with decreases in their operating budgets. The spending plan also includes $98.5 million for wastewater treatment plan upgrades.

"The capital budget is about education and the environment," Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said.

Baltimore would receive $145 million in funds, including $19 million toward a new dental school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and nearly $20 million for five projects at Coppin State College, a historically black school on North Avenue.

The capital budget also contains $4.5 million for the West Baltimore revitalization project and $4.5 million for the East Baltimore biotechnology park, as well as money to begin planning for a women's jail downtown.

University of Maryland, College Park President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. said he was thrilled that the budget contained $58.2 million toward a biological sciences research building.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of University System of Maryland, called the funding "an extraordinary commitment to higher education." Other university projects include $18.6 million for a new academic building at St. Mary's College, $4.2 million for a liberal arts complex at Towson University and $9.8 million spread among five projects at Morgan State University.

In the past year, the governor has slashed the university system's operating budget by 14 percent, which has led to layoffs and a series of tuition increases. In Ehrlich's proposed operating budget, the university system received no increase, which officials said would lead to cuts because of projected growth.

"The governor looks into the future and sees this huge influx of students," Kirwan said. "What we all have to hope for is, there will be a reinvestment in the operating budget."

The system saw a spurt of construction under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, but Kirwan pointed out that Ehrlich's five-year capital funding plan for the system exceeds the amount that Glendening spent on campus construction in his last five years in office.

In a budget-balancing move a year ago, Ehrlich and the General Assembly removed tax dollars from the capital budget, forcing the state portion of property tax bills to go up. The 4.8-cent increase to 13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value meant the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 paid an additional $96.

At the time, the governor promised to repay the money and restore property tax rates to their original level.

But yesterday, proposing to borrow $655 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for the projects -- with the remainder coming from other sources -- Ehrlich said the property tax reduction would have to be pushed into the future.

Sun staff writer Alec MacGillis contributed to this article.

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