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June 17, 2004

2004 Legislative Session Ends with Modest Budget Increases for the University System

While the 2004 legislative session featured much debate about the relationship between State funding and access to high quality public education, a modest increase in State funds has been approved for the University System of Maryland for FY 2005. Governor Ehrlich also announced that his administration is using its best efforts to provide additional operating and capital support to USM in FY 2006.

Session outcomes

The Governor included funds in the State operating budget for a $752 flat-rate COLA for employees, while the General Assembly approved a 2.5 percent merit raise, which each State agency must "self-fund." (Click here to read details in President Hrabowski's recent budget update).

One of the most high profile bills during the session, The Higher Education Affordability and Access Act (SB770/HB1188), was vetoed by the Governor. The bill would have limited tuition increases for resident undergraduates to 5 percent, and required the Governor to include an increase in funding for higher education in his annual budgets.

Despite the bill's veto and the State's continuing budget deficit, the 2004 session ended with Governor Ehrlich, legislators and USM committing to work together to provide students affordable access to a quality education, and to meet the demands that come with a projected increase in statewide college enrollments.

Voices for UMBC heard throughout session

The UMBC community was a significant voice in Annapolis during the Session, demonstrating a commitment to excellence in public education. Letters and calls to representatives and local papers, as well as testimony before special legislative committees, were just a few of the ways that UMBC students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends demonstrated their commitment to the University and its students.

The UMBC Legislative Reception hosted by the Alumni Association in February was a tremendous success. In spite of very late bill hearing schedules and multiple events on the calendar, attendance by legislators and State agency representatives was excellent. Students, faculty and staff spoke with elected officials on the importance of higher education in Maryland and the need for continued support of UMBC. UMBC advocacy groups, including the President's Advisory Council, Board of Visitors and Alumni Board and Association members, provided an equally important perspective on the importance to business of maintaining quality higher education for Marylanders.

UMBC students were particularly active in Annapolis during the Session. Several students worked hard to energize the campus student community on significant issues, including tuition concerns. They created a strong campus advocacy group, SPIN@UMBC, whose members identified, contacted and visited with legislative leaders working on higher education issues. They attended budget proceedings and bill hearings and testified before Senate and House Committees. "The University was well represented by these student activists who got their message across while earning the respect of elected officials throughout the legislature," says Joan Kennedy Cody, UMBC's director of community and government relations.

Strengthening USM and the State of Maryland

Other important bills that will strengthen the University System and the Maryland workforce were passed during the 2004 session. The General Assembly passed legislation -- which Governor Ehrlich signed into law -- that assures the autonomy of the University System and its institutions and reduces the steps involved in working with the Department of Budget and Management and other State agencies.

The legislation specifically states that the authority of the USM Board of Regents may not be superseded by any other State agency or office in managing the affairs of the USM or of any constituent institutions. The USM will retain independence in areas of governance including position control, development of policies, guidelines and plans, but will submit an annual report to the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Legislative Services and the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"This legislation is particularly important during challenging budgetary times," explains Cody. "With the USM retaining autonomy and independence, the institutions can work better and more creatively with what we are given."

Lawmakers also adopted legislation which changes the procedures governing the approval of new programs offered at USM institutions. "The process for program development between USM and the Maryland Higher Education Commission will be more streamlined, so we can continue to create and offer programs that will prepare graduates to work in areas of greatest demand in the state," says Cody.

UMBC's Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT), led by Director Claudia Morrell, was instrumental in the creation and successful passage of a bill establishing the Task Force on the Status of Women and Information Technology to address women's under-representation in information technology. Morrell and CWIT worked closely with bill sponsors to establish the purpose, membership and staffing necessary to prepare a comprehensive report to the Maryland General Assembly.

The Task Force will present an annual report on its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before October 1 of each year, beginning on October 1, 2004, for a five-year period.

What's Next?

Although the 2004 session is over, it is important that the UMBC community continue its commitment to advocacy. "It is clear that our students and their families appreciate the first-rate education available at UMBC and that they want it to remain affordable," notes Cody. "We appreciate the UMBC community's support during the 2004 legislative session, and our voices on these issues must continue to be heard." Be sure to bookmark the Voices for UMBC advocacy site and sign up for e-mail updates and action alerts on how to be a voice for quality public higher education in Maryland.

Posted by dwinds1 at June 17, 2004 12:00 AM