- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday presented an austere capital budget that managed to provide the most funding for public safety projects in a decade, as well as deliver dollars to some of the state's often overlooked historic black universities.
It marked a fundamental shift from the policies of Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who during years of budget surpluses showered dollars upon environmental programs, higher education and public schools.
Mr. Ehrlich proposed spending 12.5 percent of the $989 million capital budget, or $123 million, on public safety, including $23.5 million to build a state-of-the-art police forensic lab and more than $66 million to expand prisons and jails. The new prison capacity would include 256 more beds at the Cumberland minimum security prison and a new 140-bed minimum security prison in Somerset County.
"Prison construction has been neglected for a decade," Mr. Ehrlich said.
He said more prisons, not reduced sentences for violent offenders, were the answer to Maryland's overcrowded prisons.
"Violent criminals and gun bangers need to be locked up," he said.
In Mr. Glendening's $1.5 billion capital budget in 2001, he spent about $422 million on the environment, about $418 million on colleges and universities, and about $248 million on public schools. Mr. Glendening, who spent about $3.4 billion on public schools and higher education construction projects during his eight years in office, has called his tenure the "golden age" for schools and universities.
"The 'golden age' might be in respect to cash," Mr. Ehrlich said, adding that more frugal spending during years of surpluses would have helped avoid the budget crunch he inherited.
Mr. Ehrlich's first capital budget had to contend with the $1.8 billion budget shortfall, which severely limited his ability to use general fund revenue. Just $13 million of the capital budget came out of the general fund this year, as opposed to previous years when as much as $600 million was available in the general fund to support capital projects.
Mr. Ehrlich still made the environmental and education priorities in his capital budget.
He deviated from Mr. Glendening's focus on conservation programs, instead spending on projects to aid the Chesapeake Bay with improved wastewater treatment plants and reduced agricultural runoff. About $224 million, or 22.7 percent of Mr. Ehrlich's capital budget, would go to environmental projects.
More than 40 percent of the capital budget, $397 million, would go to education projects, with $225 million spent on higher education and $102 million on public schools.
Mr. Ehrlich directed the higher education spending to universities traditionally passed over for capital projects. He allotted $49 million to build a long-awaited library at Morgan State University and $8 million for property acquisition by Coppin State University, both historically black universities.
"I made a promise to Marylanders that I would invest in our future," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Higher educational institutions, particularly [historically] black colleges and universities, have been operating with limited resources for far too long."
Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson said that the governor was a man of his word, noting that Mr. Ehrlich pledged to support the library project during the campaign.
"Today he is showing us that he really meant what he said," Mr. Richardson said.
John A. Heath, assistant to the Coppin State president, agreed.
"This sends a message to the African-American community that this administration is about fulfilling promises, not breaking them," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich's proposal also provided $25 million for a fine arts center at Towson University, another school often left out.
In keeping with his goal of enhancing the state's high-technology business climate, Mr. Ehrlich provided $46 million for the Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center for the Advanced Research in Biotechnology.
The budget also included $139.9 million for community investment in such projects as a $9 million revitalization effort in Baltimore, a $7.6 million homeownership program, a $3 million expansion of the Maryland Science Center and a $2 million beach replenishment initiative in Ocean City.
About $65.5 million went to business and job creation projects, including $25.5 million for the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Fund and $3 million for the Technology Development Investment Fund.

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