"Doomsday" for Maryland Budget

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On Wednesday, April 18, President Urgo sent out an all-student email concerning the state budget and how it will affect the recent push for providing the living wage to the staff on campus. In the email Urgo discussed the affect of the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) on the College’s budget. The state legislature failed to pass BRFA and if it is not passed by July 1, the state will revert to what is referred to as the “Doomsday Budget.”

“The potential impact to St. Mary’s College, while not precisely defined, would include a permanent budget cut of approximately $1.8 million,” said Urgo in the email. “Aside from eliminating the proposed January 2013 cost-of-living salary increases, we would also face a range of potential actions including increased employee health care insurance cost, layoffs, financial aid reductions, and further increases in tuition.”

President Urgo concluded the email by encouraging students to work with the College to persuade Governor Martin O’Malley (Democrat) and the legislators to hold a special session to ensure that the state is not forced into the default budget plan. “We welcome you to partner with us in pushing for reconciliation and the passage of a budget for fiscal year 2013. Please reach out to your legislative delegate and senator to let them know how important passage of the state’s operating budget and BRFA are to our campus community and the residents of Maryland.”

The “Doomsday Budget,” according to The Washington Post, results in “more than $200 million in cuts to schools; reduced aid to state universities and community colleges; and the elimination of funds for police, libraries and state employees, who’d lose their first pay increase in several years.”

Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman said, concerning the Doomsday Budget, “Right now, if we magically wound the clock forward to July 1, that’s the budget that would come into play. That budget would prohibit any increases for state employees. It would also reduce funding for higher education by 10 percent,” which is the reason why the college is taking the $1.8 million hit.

If the legislatures choose to resolve the budget, they would need to hold one or two special sessions to pass two bills, a revenue bill and BRFA. BRFA will decide how the state will spend its budget while the revenue bill will raise taxes to pay for the budget.

“It’s how much they’re going to spend, how much they’re going to raise in revenue, and how they’re going to spend it,” said Botzman. “It’s quite likely that the governor will call a special session of the Maryland Legislature…in which they will address those budget bills…. Once they do that, the College will now have what its allocation is from the state.”

The budget that the college board will vote on at its meeting on the day before graduation, assuming that the state budget will come through, will provide funds for salary increases for all employees. However, despite having the funds, they would not be able to enact these changes because there is still a state-wide freeze on spending in place. “The question is: what are we going to do? We are going to proceed with a budget that provides an allocation for salary increases and we will then use that allocation when the state removes the freeze,” said Botzman.

The freeze has been in place for over three years, but Botzman and the College remain “hopeful and confident in the governor and our legislatures to move forward so that we can provide salary increases to all employees. But when? As soon as possible – that’s when we’d like to do it and we’re going to do it.”

The College is not actively planning for a scenario in which the “doomsday budget” is enacted because they “really feel confident that [the state] will find a resolution, but we are state agents and we have to wait until things get resolved.”

The budget that is currently being planned for the coming fiscal year will provide funds for increasing the internet speed between three and five times over the summer, two additional faculty lines, more money to hire faculty, increased rates for heating oil and sewage, more employee benefits, and an upgrade to Blackboard.

“We have to wait, we have to be patient,” said Botzman. “I know a lot of students, staff, and faculty are concerned about others in our campus community and we have done the best we can to relay those messages and we are grateful to those who are helping to encourage our legislatures to solve this because once they do, then we have a  little bit better certainty and we’re not making plans for what-ifs, we’re making plans for what will be.”

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