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Universities Bid to Skip Budget Lesson

Boosters of the University System of Maryland are lobbying Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to soften the blow of a potential $20 million cut that would be enacted next month as part of the state's efforts to come to terms with a looming budget deficit.

Last month, O'Malley asked state agencies and the university system to come up collectively with $200 million in budget cuts as a first step in closing a shortfall of nearly $1.5 billion next year.

The $20 million that the university system was asked to shave would amount to about 2 percent of its budget -- a smaller percentage than what several other agencies have been asked to cut, O'Malley aides pointed out.

University system spokeswoman Anne Moultrie said university officials have filed a letter of appeal, citing growing enrollment demands. "We're in discussions with the governor's office," she said.

Some university officials and lawmakers are also irked that the cuts have been requested so soon after O'Malley pushed a tuition freeze through the legislature. A modest tuition increase would be one way for the system to offset the cut in state appropriations.

"I think it's very unfair," said Sen. P.J. Hogan (D-Montgomery), a leading advocate for the university system in the General Assembly. "I don't know that you can have it both ways."

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese countered: "It's not inconsistent for the governor to be committed to making college tuition more affordable for Maryland families and asking the university system to be more efficient."

Abbruzzese also emphasized that a final decision had not been made about the $200 million in cuts.

O'Malley's budget secretary, T. Eloise Foster, disclosed last week that the administration plans to present its list to the Board of Public Works for the panel's approval July 11. Members of the panel will be briefed on what's coming several days earlier, she said.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl around Annapolis that Hogan is leaving the Senate to take the top lobbying job for the university system. Despite jockeying that has started among would-be successors, Hogan said the rumor is "specious."

Hogan said he is more interested in succeeding Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) when he steps down, possibly when his term ends in 2010. Others eyeing the Senate's top job include Sens. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) and Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery).

By Phyllis Jordan  |  June 24, 2007; 9:57 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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