ANNAPOLIS – Historically black colleges and public safety were the biggest winners Thursday under Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s $1 billion capital budget, while transportation took a nearly $100 million cut.
Ehrlich’s transportation plan continues funding for major programs, but delays or defers many others. It contains no funding for new projects.
The capital proposal, which provides funds to construction projects throughout the state, represents a $600 million drop from former Gov. Parris Glendening’s 2002 capital budget, excluding transportation.
Ehrlich’s capital budget funds $8 million in land purchases at Coppin State University and a $49 million library at Morgan State University as part of $184 million set aside for major higher education projects.
Total education spending was set at $400 million, and about a quarter of that, or $102 million, will go to public school construction projects at 75 schools.
“The budget reflects the priorities of this administration,” Ehrlich said, highlighting the $124 million he earmarked for public safety.
Ehrlich used his budget presentation to again blast leading lawmakers’ proposals to increase sales and income taxes to close the state’s $1.2 billion deficit.
At the same time, Ehrlich signaled to the General Assembly he may not veto new fees, with the exception of a much-discussed 5- to 10-cent gas tax. Such a tax would be inappropriate given that the nation is on the brink of war with Iraq, Ehrlich said, rejecting in advance a plan House Appropriations Chairman Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore, is preparing to introduce.
The state has a “credibility problem,” Ehrlich said, referring to an 11 percent increase in government spending over personal income since 1999. That irresponsible spending caused the deficit, he said, which is now projected to be $700 million by 2005. That number could top $1 billion if slot machines are not legalized, a controversial measure that Ehrlich’s overall budget anticipates earning $1 billion in revenue over the next two years.
Ehrlich’s Coppin State funding was well received.
Although the university received only $8 million, President Calvin Burnett said the allotment felt like $800 million, and was the most influential gubernatorial gesture since he came to the school 33 years ago. The money will purchase a business center near the school, which can be converted into a physical education building and allow for the university to undergo a transformation. Burnett said he was pleased that all the college had to do was state its need: “We didn’t have to beg for it.” Three projects accounted for most of the higher education dollars. The University of Maryland’s new dental school building received $47 million and its Center for Advanced Research of Biotechnology II building received $46 million. The Morgan State library, at $49 million, was the third big project. Ehrlich’s newly appointed director of public safety, Mary Ann Saar, said she was very pleased with her department’s capital funding. Of the $124 million allotted to public safety projects, $33 million will double the maximum security beds at the North Branch Correctional Facility in Cumberland, and $21 million will upgrade the medical and rehabilitation system at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Another $19 million would fund fire and safety improvements at Patuxent Institute and expand kitchen facilities at the Brockbridge prison. And, $24 million will build a new crime lab. Ehrlich’s proposal represents the highest increase in public safety spending in 10 years, a department spokesman said. “We run a crowded prison system . . . It has severely challenged our ability to keep the public safe,” department spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr. said.
Transportation spending, funded separately from the rest of the capital budget, totaled $1.64 billion, a $94 million cut from last year. That whack begins a large-scale decline in capital spending on transportation over the next five years.
While money for highways, the port administration and Maryland Transit Administration climbed slightly over 2003, aviation administration and Metro funding each took hits of more than $67 million. No new projects are funded under the transportation building plan, however the budget continues funding for major projects, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.