- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

TOWSON, Md. (AP) — Higher education was a big winner in a $1.45 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday, when Mr. Ehrlich stood on a Towson University lawn and said healthier state finances allowed him to fund delayed school projects.

In his last capital spending proposal before seeking re-election, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, emphasized that spending is up because the state’s coffers are in better shape than when he took office.

His proposed capital plan, which must be approved by the legislature, includes millions of dollars for new buildings and renovations at colleges and universities.

The education part of his budget totaled $530 million.

As he has said many times, Mr. Ehrlich reminded the crowd that the state’s fiscal picture wasn’t so good when he took office.

“I keep harping on that first year because it was so difficult. The cupboards were bare,” he said. “They were more than bare; there were IOUs there.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s spending plan, which doesn’t include transportation projects, calls for about $717 million in state borrowing.

The wide-ranging proposal included millions of dollars to buy open space, along with a sprinkling of projects across the state — from $2 million for beach replenishment in Ocean City to $1 million for the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy in Harford County.

Money also was set aside for K-12 school construction and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

Higher-education officials who attended Mr. Ehrlich’s announcement, large photo-op checks in hand, said they were thrilled with the proposed funding, but that tuition probably would increase anyway next year.

“It will make up for some of the cuts in the early years,” said Abraham Moore, vice president for finance and management at Morgan State University. But he added, “We need more.”

“We are very grateful for what we have. It will help us modify tuition increases” but won’t eliminate them, Mr. Moore said.

Salisbury University President Janet Dudley-Eshbach said Mr. Ehrlich has done the best he can to help state schools, given the state’s finances.

“The governor was elected in what I think were extremely difficult times,” Mrs. Dudley-Eshbach said.

The capital spending plan now goes to the legislature, which has more control to tweak the governor’s proposal than it does over his regular budget.

Unlike the general budget, the capital budget can be increased or shifted by lawmakers.

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