ANNAPOLIS – The Senate budget chairman blasted University System of Maryland officials Thursday for tuition increases he compared to unapproved taxes.
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, prodded system Chancellor William Kirwan and Board of Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall, asking whether increased tuition is a tax “without having to be accountable to taxpayers?”
Kirwan and Kendall appeared taken aback by the question at the committee’s hearing and were quick to defend regents’ decisions. Tuition increases of up to 20 percent at some campuses were unavoidable after the state cut the system’s budget by almost $122 million in two years, they contended.
“You appropriate the funds,” Kirwan said.
“We felt like we minimized adverse effects to the extent we could,” Kendall added.
Kendall opened another line of discussion that led to more rebukes by committee members: To remain competitive, the system must maintain salaries, which are now in the 70th percentile of comparative positions around the country, he said.
The public is more interested in affordable education than competitive administrative salaries, said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
“There’s little sympathy,” he said.
Yet, other committee members praised the system officials for recent achievements in academics, sports, research and fundraising.
Kirwan and Kendall said they hoped Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. maintains the system’s funding at its current level when he presents his budget to the General Assembly next week.
Ehrlich, however, has said he believes the system can operate more efficiently, and there are indications he will cut its budget.
The governor has taken previous higher education cuts into account while formulating his budget, said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, but the system can save money by cutting administrative salaries and limiting officials’ use of cell phones, houses and cars.
That same thought is driving a bill by Delegate Herbert McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, to limit system tuition increases for in-state residents to the rate of inflation. The legislation has 10 other Republicans and a Democrat as sponsors.
McMillan disputed Kirwan’s contention that tuition increases have recouped 40 percent of cuts to the system’s budget, saying legislative analysts determined tuition increases have replaced state cuts by 155 percent in fiscal year 2004 and by 70 percent in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 combined.
System administrators need to “put their house in order,” McMillan said and reduce administrative salaries or positions.
“They’re getting rid of some of the Indians,” he said, “but what they should be getting rid of is the chiefs.”
Free tuition for system employees and families should be available only to those under a certain income level, and majors with few students should be eliminated from some campuses, McMillan also suggested.
While tuition caps are desirable, they shouldn’t be used without increased state funding, said C.D. Mote Jr., University of Maryland, College Park president.
“The reality is you can’t talk about one without the other,” he said before the hearing. “We’re concerned about access and quality.”