Md. Budget Crisis: O'Malley Promises College Students Affordable Education If His Plan Passes

By RICK DOCKSAI, Capital News Service

BALTIMORE - Gov. Martin O'Malley assured an audience of political science students Wednesday that his budget plan would keep their tuitions within reach of their families' pocketbooks.

"It's the economically essential thing to do," said O'Malley, to an audience of about 50 Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars and student government members at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The governor's pledge is contingent on revenue from legalized slots and from a 1 percentage point increase in corporate income taxes, two parts of his plan to solve a $1.7 billion budget shortfall. That plan will be put before the General Assembly in a special session that starts on Oct. 29.

The corporate tax increase, from the current 7 percent to 8 percent, would raise about $110 million, half of which would go to transportation and the other half of which would go to higher education to keep tuition affordable, O'Malley said.

He said slots could ultimately bring in $125 million that would be dedicated to construction of schools at all levels, not just higher education.

O'Malley declined to offer specifics on how the extra money might be spent, but he does expect it would help "smooth out those tuition increases and make them more affordable for more people."

His spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said in an interview that the governor's plan will stem increases in tuition at Maryland colleges.

"His solution is to provide a source of funding to stabilize tuition rates. Families can't sustain that level of increase," Abbruzzese said. "What's important is we find a way to stabilize tuition."

O'Malley tied higher education to keeping America's economy competitive in the face of growing numbers of skilled professionals emerging in developing countries.

"In our country, whose population will never be as big as China's, there is no such thing as a spare American," he said.

University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan, spoke glowingly of the plan afterwards.

"I think this would be a huge advancement for the University System of Maryland," Kirwan said.

But the plan must pass first. Garnering revenue from slots has long been controversial: Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich tried and was rebuffed by lawmakers, many of whom are unhappy with O'Malley's plan to do the same.

The slots proposal was better received by his college audience.

"It would bring a lot of revenue for higher education," said Dina Douglas, an undergraduate.

Frances Carter, a doctoral student, was hopeful that his plan would pass.

"I hope it passes. I know it will take a lot of work," she said.

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