Maryland Governor Faces Questions Over University Golf Course Funding

Maryland Governor Faces Questions Over University Golf Course Funding

ANNAPOLIS, Md.

      Gov. Robert Ehrlich is facing questions from some at the University of Maryland for putting more than a $1 million into the school’s budget to repair the school’s golf course instead of fixing two science buildings.

      Over two years, $1.5 million will be spent to fix the golf course’s drainage problem.

      Maryland has been trying to get money to replace two 50-year-old science buildings, but spending on that project has been delayed by a year.

      “The golf course is a wonderful place, but the priority ought to go to what’s important to the economic development of the state,” said James Rosapepe, a member of the Board of Regents appointed by Ehrlich’s Democratic predecessor. “Our recommendation was science, and the decision was made to go with golf.”

      Projects were delayed throughout the university system to free up cash for large investments in K-12 school construction in the $1.4 billion capital spending plan presented last week. Plus, the governor said, he is trying to play catch-up at the state’s historically Black colleges, such as Coppin State University, and expand others designated for enrollment growth, such as Towson University.

      “For years and years and years, we’ve heard from Coppin and Towson that they got short shrift. That’s the truth,” Ehrlich said in an interview. “Some campuses benefit more depending on the year. You can’t get lost in all that.”

      As for repairs to the golf course, the governor said, the small-ticket items in the budget give him some flexibility to consider personal interests and relationships.

      “On the big projects, you weigh them, you try to get them done,” the governor said. “With the minors, you get into personal requests, things that interest you, of course.”

      The smaller projects in Ehrlich’s capital budget include $750,000 for a Langley Park community center that offers gang prevention and anti-drug programs and $440,000 to restore the state’s oldest synagogue, part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore.

      A review of the list also confirms the former college football player’s strong interest in sports. There is $3 million earmarked for a minor league baseball stadium in Southern Maryland, $1 million for the YMCA in Towson and $1 million to complete a youth-sized replica of Camden Yards in Harford County for a youth baseball academy.

      In Baltimore, there is money for the public golf course where Ehrlich played as a teenager. Forest Park Golf Course is slated to receive $500,000 to replace its dilapidated clubhouse.

      Towson University has its personal appeal to Ehrlich as well: His congressional papers sit in the library there, his chief of staff graduated from the school, which is just north of Baltimore and Ehrlich occasionally lectures there.

      But when College Park supporters looked around at how other campuses fared in the budget, they saw serious inequities. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, a 1964 graduate, called it a “slap in the face of all academia connected with College Park.”

      For the budget years 2007 through 2011, College Park requested $147 million and received $43.6 million. At Towson, the regents asked for $184 million and received $138 million, and Coppin’s request of $203 million was funded at $210 million.

      Joseph Vivona, the university system’s vice chancellor for administration and finance, said: “I can understand that they are disappointed, because I look at the charts, and I can see why it would look like they were treated differently. They weren’t.”

      The budget, he said, is a five-year snapshot that does not look back a year at the school’s new $64 million biosciences building that Ehrlich helped to fast-track. It also does not take into account that the delayed science buildings are still part of long-term funding plans for the university.

      “We went in with a very ambitious request, and the governor actually gave us a good amount of money,” Vivona said. “He has a lot of demands.”

— Associated Press



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