WASHINGTON – Maryland University Chancellor William E. Kirwan said Wednesday that tuition will rise and students will be priced out of college educations unless the Bush administration’s economic stimulus plan includes direct aid to states.
Kirwan joined business, labor and political leaders at a union-sponsored forum in Washington that was largely critical of the White House plan for $674 billion in tax cuts.
The administration’s economic stimulus package does not make sense, Kirwan said.
“What does makes sense is a stimulus package that includes direct aid to the states, and that would help states overcome their near-term fiscal problems,” he said.
Labor leaders and Democratic officials at the forum also denounced Bush’s economic plan.
“In this case, the right thing is increasing taxes,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Those sentiments drew criticism from state Republicans and some economists, however.
“We’re looking for direct aid, but we fully support the Bush administration’s tax cuts,” said Greg Massoni, a spokesman for Gov. Robert Ehrlich. “No one’s ever taxed themselves into prosperity.”
And Towson University economist Anirban Basu questioned Kirwan’s insistence on direct aid to the states.
“Do we want the federal government to bail out the states?” Basu asked. “Does that not create a perverse incentive for states to overspend?”
Maryland faces a $500 million deficit this year and a $1.2 billion deficit next year.
The state has already cut $67 million from the university system budget, between reductions in the current year and those envisioned in Ehrlich’s fiscal 2004 budget. And higher education officials fear the state’s colleges and universities remain a big target for further cuts.
Kirwan said those cuts, combined with Bush’s economic plan, could mean midyear tuition hikes at universities in Maryland and nationwide.
“Even if students can afford tuition, there may not be a place for them at public institutions,” he said, because universities’ budgets may limit the number of students they admit.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents will meet Thursday to discuss spending cuts, including possible layoffs. The board is also scheduled to decide whether to impose a midyear tuition increase, said Francis Canavan, a spokesman for the university system.
He said the system’s 11 degree-granting campuses are already feeling the budget pressure.
“There’s been elimination of positions, reduced office hours and reduced travel costs,” Canavan said. “There’s also good possibility that latest round of cuts will result in some layoffs or furloughs.”