ANNAPOLIS- At the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Rockville, researchers stand ready to make important discoveries on the structure of proteins, the basic building blocks of human life. But they need more space and the grant money that comes with it.
At Frostburg State University, engineering students have a lot in common with basketball players. They learn their craft on the floor of an old gymnasium and store their tools in old lockers previously occupied by tennis shoes and sweat socks. Chemistry, engineering and biology students, meanwhile, study in a building constructed just after the Soviets launched Sputnik.
In another corner of the state, the University of Maryland at Baltimore is out of room. Biomedical researchers there cannot accept grants, because they do not have lab space for new projects.
These situations could change if Gov. Parris N. Glendening wins approval for his fiscal year 2000 budget. The governor’s budget, released Thursday, promises to build or update science facilities at state universities with revenues from a $1.00 cigarette tax. The governor’s plan calls for $210.7 million in revenues from the tax to accelerate construction of seven science buildings at six universities in 2001 and 2002.
UMBI could get $46.1 million to build a new biotechnology research center. Frostburg is slated for a $28.1 million dollar facelift in the form of a new science building. UMB will receive $53 million to erect a new research building in downtown Baltimore.
Other projects include a $35.6 million engineering/sciences building at the University of Maryland- Baltimore County and a new $19.7 million aquaculture and ecology lab at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies.
The new biomedical research center could be a boon to the University of Maryland at Baltimore with the National Institute of Health about to double the amount of grant money it awards. UMB can only accept limited NIH grant money now, but with the combination of new space and technology and new money available, the benefits to public health could be significant, said Jo Martin, assistant vice president for communications and publications.
Martin called the new building a perfect fit for UMB, which houses the University of Maryland Medical School. She said the entire university would have access to the added space and better lab equipment in the downtown research building.
On the high-tech end of the science spectrum, the planned biotechnology research center at UMBI represents the cutting edge of genetic engineering research. There, researchers investigate the structure, design and function of proteins — basic knowledge needed for genetic engineering. By re-engineering proteins, researchers can create commercial medical products that combat diseases on the molecular level.
UMBI interim President Peter McCann said he was pleasantly surprised by the governor’s plan, but said he was not sure what new directions the institute might take in its new facility. The project would allow UMBI to become less dependent on state funding by increasing potential grant intake, he said.
The UMBI research center is one of the programs that would be accelerated most by cigarette revenues along with the new engineering/sciences building at UMBC. Both could begin construction four years ahead of schedule, secretary of budget and management Frederick W. Puddester said.
The first $90 million for science and research buildings would come from the second year cigarette tax revenue, Puddester said. Another $120.7 million would come from the third year revenue.
The $1.00 per pack tax could face strong opposition after President Clinton announced Tuesday night he plans to seek a nationwide $0.55 per pack cigarette tax, said Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor, D-Allegany. But a spokesman for the governor, Don Vandrey, said Clinton’s announcement would not stop Glendening from pushing forward.
Some Republicans immediately decried the governor’s plan as another example of Democratic tax and spend tactics.
“The typical Democratic ploy is that whenever they want to grow government or raise taxes they say it’s for the children, for education,” said Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard. “They’ve been saying that for the 16 years I’ve been in office, and I don’t see the children or education being better off.”
Vandrey said the budget was not designed to bully legislators into voting for the cigarette tax. Instead, he said, building science and research facilities would be a way of counterbalancing tobacco’s negative effects on the state’s health, the governor’s stated goal for the tax.
Many legislators, including several Republicans, commended Glendening for telling them specifically what is at stake when they vote on the cigarette tax. But Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, said he wished Glendening had stated his specific plans for all of the cigarette tax revenues instead of just a portion of the second year money. -30-