- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday announced a $172 million increase in higher-education funding in his proposed budget, including funds to curb escalating tuition at state universities and double the amount of need-based college scholarships.

“We are taking this [university] system and this state to the next level,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, to the more than 200 people attending the announcement at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“We are making extraordinary new investments in our higher education system, while making colleges and universities more affordable for Maryland families,” he said.

The additional funds announced yesterday boost higher-education spending to $1.4 billion in the proposed fiscal 2007 budget. The spending plan must be approved by the General Assembly, which convenes next Wednesday.

The extra funds included:

• $117 million for the University System of Maryland (USM), a 14.5 percent increase over current funding that allows the Board of Regents to keep tuition increases below 4.5 percent for the fall semester.

• $19 million for need-based college scholarships, doubling the level of such scholarships and helping more than 11,000 more students attend college since 2003.

• $14.4 million for community colleges.

• $5.9 million for historically black colleges and universities, including $3.8 million in debt relief for Coppin State University.

• $4.1 million for independent colleges and universities.

• $3.7 million to USM to start a $1.5 billion capital campaign.

This first glimpse at Mr. Ehrlich’s budget priorities for the new year was hailed by members of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, college presidents across the state and student leaders.

USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan said the governor remained “true to his word” by doling out more funding as the state rebounded from a nearly $2 billion deficit inherited from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Mr. Ehrlich demanded cost cutting at universities, as well as throughout state government, to help close the budget gap. He has since presided over a budget turnaround to a projected $1.7 billion surplus.

The governor’s detractors responded by criticizing the administration’s past budget cuts.

They blamed Mr. Ehrlich for driving up tuition more than 40 percent since he took office in 2003, despite tuition increases of nearly 55 percent under Mr. Glendening.

James C. Rosapepe, a member of the USM Board of Regents who was appointed to the post by Mr. Glendening, said the extra money was “a drop in the bucket” compared with previous cuts. He also is running as a more-liberal alternative to Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.

Mr. Rosapepe said he supported the call for a tuition freeze made Monday by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democratic rival of Mr. Ehrlich’s in the governor’s race.

O’Malley campaign spokesman Jonathan Epstein said the governor was in “deep trouble” because of his neglect of higher education. “Today’s photo-op will not make up for the string of F’s he has racked up over the last three years,” he said.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, the other leading Democrat in the governor’s race, called the budget announcement “a shameless election-year conversion.”

“He has slashed funding for higher education and substantially increased tuition, denying countless young people the opportunity to go to college,” Mr. Duncan said. “In short, the governor has sought to take us back to a time when only the wealthy and privileged could afford to go college.”

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