ANNAPOLIS – Higher education won support this week, with a task force calling for increased state aid paired with a tuition cap and an appropriations subcommittee Tuesday saying level funding of higher education’s budget is anything but.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s operating budget for the University System of Maryland, which encompasses 11 colleges and universities and two research institutions, was $746.2 million — the same funding level that the system received last year.
System officials have repeatedly thanked Ehrlich for keeping the budget level, but said state-mandated pay raises and other operating increases means $80 million in costs that are not accounted for in the budget. Increased enrollment also is not included, officials said.
“We don’t agree that it’s level-funding,” said Delegate James E. Proctor Jr., D-Prince George’s, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development.
Neither does Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Subcommittee on Education, Business and Administration.
“The term level funding to most people sounds pretty good,” Hogan said. “That’s fine if you don’t have growing enrollment, growing health care costs. We’re going backwards.”
About $122 million in cuts to the system’s budget in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 brought tuition increases of up to 21 percent at some campuses and prompted House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, to appoint a task force to study access and affordability in higher education. Regents have already approved a tuition increase for next year averaging 10 percent.
The task force’s preliminary recommendations, released Monday, include a 5 percent tuition cap for in-state students and a 3.4 percent increase in state support for 2005. A tuition cap of 5 percent and increased state support of 5 percent is called for in fiscal years 2006 through 2008.
“It will not exactly solve our problems, but it will help our problems,” said Proctor, a task force member.
The task force proposes increasing the corporate income tax rate from 7 percent to 7.9 percent through 2008 — similar to an increase vetoed last year by Ehrlich — to pay for the increased funding. The tax increase would generate about $272 million.
Proctor said he was confident Ehrlich would work with lawmakers to find a revenue stream for higher education, while Board of Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall said he was optimistic higher education’s budget would remain intact.
“The General Assembly,” he said, “recognizes the importance of higher education.”