By Rolando Garcia
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s $847 million capital budget includes money for new college campus construction and funds to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but puts off the property tax relief Ehrlich had pledged to seek this year.
Although it is well under last year’s $984 million capital budget, Ehrlich’s new budget still contains $100 million for public school construction and more than $250 million for universities and community colleges.
The capital budget released Tuesday is separate from the state’s regular operating budget and supports the building and maintenance of state facilities through bonds, user fees and federal funds.
To close an operating budget shortfall last year, Ehrlich took $187 million earmarked for debt service from the capital budget. To make up the difference, the state portion of property taxes was raised from 8.4 cents to 13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $200,000 home paid an additional $96.
At the time, Ehrlich said he would repay the money and restore property taxes to their original level, but the need to close an $800 million budget shortfall this year means tax relief will have to wait, said Neil Bergsman, budget analysis director for the Department of Budget and Management.
“The governor still intends to reduce property taxes, but we can’t do it until the state can afford it,” Bergsman said.
Among the projects included in the spending plan is $98 million to upgrade wastewater treatment plants to lower nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake.
Ehrlich also proposed $56 million for a Biological Sciences Research Building at the University of Maryland College Park.
“(The research building) has been one of our top priorities for some time,” said George Cathcart, a university spokesman at College Park.
However, Cathcart added, the university was still feeling the effects of last year’s budget cuts, and, while the governor’s proposed operating budget makes no further cuts, the university will need additional state funds to remain competitive with other top public universities.
Other university projects include $19 million toward a new dental school at the University of Maryland Baltimore, $26 million for new academic and student services buildings at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and $20 million for five projects at Coppin State College, a historically black school in Baltimore.