- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — University of Maryland student leaders, denouncing higher tuition as a big tax increase on the middle class, began a campaign yesterday to fight for increased state aid for higher education.

The main target of a rally outside the State House was Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose cuts in higher education spending were blamed for tuition increases averaging about 20 percent this year plus another increase averaging 9.4 percent that has been approved for next year.

Mr. Ehrlich “has a huge middle-class constituency he is attacking here,” said Drew Vetter, 20, a junior from Baltimore.

Tim Daly, student body president at the College Park campus, announced the formation of a political action committee with a goal of raising at least $50,000 to underwrite a lobbying campaign for more money for the state’s university system.

“We cannot afford to let these people get away with the decisions they are making,” Mr. Daly said. “[Mr. Ehrlich] is the one who is public enemy number one.”

The announcement came shortly after House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, announced he would create a panel of House members to look into problems caused by budget cuts and tuition increases and report back to the legislature in January.

Mr. Busch said access to state universities is being threatened by tuition increases and enrollment caps at some campuses.

Mr. Ehrlich and the General Assembly cut spending for many state programs and agencies this year, but higher education took the biggest hit.

Henry Fawell, spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said Maryland “is going through one of the toughest budgetary times in history. There is hardly any agency that is not affected by it.”

Mr. Fawell said other states also are cutting spending on higher education, causing double-digit increases in tuition across the country.

But Mr. Daly said the governor could have avoided some of the tuition increase by signing a bill passed by the legislature in April that would have increased business taxes by $135 million a year.

Mr. Fawell said the administration does not plan to increase funding for higher education in next year’s budget. In what he called “a positive development,” he also said there would be no further cuts.

But Mr. Daly said that if higher education aid is not increased in next year’s budgets, regents will have to boost tuition by another 10 percent, amounting to a 40 percent increase in two years.

The new political action committee, Student Citizens Action Network, will be used to make Marylanders aware of the cuts in higher education and the burden imposed by tuition increases.

Mr. Daly said students will use radio advertising, direct mail, door knocking and telephone calls to pressure the governor and legislators to put more money into higher education next year.

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