Miller withdraws CSM budget bill

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s), shown here during a tour at the Benedict Volunteer Fire Department last year, has withdrawn his bill proposing the unification of the College of Southern Maryland’s budget at the request of CSM President Maureen Murphy.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) has withdrawn a bill proposing a single budget for all College of Southern Maryland campuses following concerns expressed by the county commissioners of all three participating counties.

The bill was withdrawn at the request of CSM President Maureen Murphy prior to its first scheduled hearing on Friday and given an “unfavorable report” by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, where the bill had been assigned after being introduced in early February.

An unfavorable report is a procedural step taken by a committee in the Senate or House of Delegates to stop further consideration of a bill once it has been withdrawn by the legislator who sponsored it. It does not mean the committee rejected the bill or voted it down.

The bill, which had been cosponsored by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) and Sen. Jack Bailey (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), proposed several changes to the state code related to CSM’s budget that would require county commissioners in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties to review and approve a single budget for the college instead of passing three separate budgets by each of the counties, as is the case now.

If passed, the bill would have made the approval of CSM’s budget contingent on the support of “a majority of the counties that support the college,” or two of the three participating counties.

If one county were to not approve the budget, it would still have been obligated to provide its share of the funding.

The bill also proposed eliminating a requirement for CSM to provide campus-by-campus breakdowns of direct expenditures or any indirect expenditures in its operating budget.

According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the state’s Department of Legislative Services, last year Charles County contributed just under $9.9 million to CSM, representing 52 percent of the local share of the college’s budget. Calvert County allocated $4.5 million, or 25 percent, and St. Mary’s contributed $4.2 million, or 23 percent. The bill did not state whether the amounts or proportions of each county’s contribution to CSM’s budget would have been changed.

The Department of Legislative Services noted that other regional community colleges in Maryland are statutorily required to base counties’ local shares on the proportion of full-time equivalent students enrolled in the college.

As of the Fall of 2017, Charles County residents made up 43 percent of CSM’s student body, with St. Mary’s County residents comprising just under a third and Calvert County residents representing nearly a quarter.

Earlier this month, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the withdrawal of the bill after the county had not received a response from Murphy to a list of 13 questions about the potential impact of the bill on the county. Murphy told the Maryland Independent that the college had responded within 48 hours of the request and did not know “what miscommunication may have occurred.”

The county commissioners had expressed concern that the bill had been drafted and submitted without first discussing its potential impacts with either the board of commissioners or the county’s fiscal and administrative services staff.

“The County will need to perform our due diligence and obtain information on how this legislative change will impact the county’s budget, long-term,” the commissioners wrote in a letter submitted to the county’s delegation to the General Assembly.

Last week the Board of Calvert County Commissioners had drafted a letter proposing the withdrawal of the bill and the drafting of a memorandum of understanding among CSM and the three counties it serves. The Board of Charles County Commissioners expressed its preference to discuss the issues with CSM rather than enter into a formal MOU. The Board of St. Mary’s County Commissioners also discussed the draft letter last week but did not reach a decision on whether to co-sign it.

Murphy emailed the commissioners of all three counties on March 6 to inform them that she had requested Miller withdraw the bill because the college was “distressed by the consternation among the counties” over the bill.

“We see the college as a vital partner for each of the counties, and we value those relationships greatly,” Murphy said in the email, a copy of which CSM provided to the Maryland Independent. “We do not want to see things damaged because of misunderstandings.”

Instead, CSM intends to “engage in summer study” with the counties to work out the issues.

“I’ve spoken to Senator Miller’s staff, and one of them will work with us to facilitate summer study, so we can bring forward a bill next year that we all understand the same way,” Murphy wrote.

“There’s nothing to be gained by misunderstandings and pushing something through that people don’t understand,” Murphy told the Independent.

Charles County Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) told the Maryland Independent that he believed the three counties would be able to reach an agreement on how to address the issues that CSM sought to solve through the bill.

“I think what happened this time around [was that there] wasn’t real clarity on the language used in the bill and how it would impact each individual county, and I think that’s why you saw reservations,” Collins said.

Collins added that he has spoken with Murphy about the county’s concerns over the potential fiscal impact of merging the three separate budgets, particularly if the county were to find itself on the “short end” of a 2-1 vote to approve the college’s budget.

“President Murphy made assurances that moving forward certainly there would be more clarity, [and that] there would be more of an opportunity to discuss how it will play out with the various scenarios,” Collins said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to resolve any concerns, and I think we will be able to address what she is inevitably trying to get out of the bill.”

Board of Calvert County Commissioners’ President Thomas Hutchins (R) issued a statement supporting the withdrawal of the bill.

“It was clear the issue needed further investigation among all the Southern Maryland stakeholders,” Hutchins said. “CSM is a regional gem and we are confident local coordination will help us reach a resolution that sustains the college and its vital role in our community.”

“The bill was provided to us by the president of the College of Southern Maryland and we were under the impression that she secured approval of the three affected counties for the bill before she brought it to our attention,” Miller said in a statement provided to the Maryland Independent. “I thought the bill was a step in the right direction; however, none of the three counties currently support the bill. We have withdrawn the bill to give everyone the opportunity to resolve it administratively. It is my understanding that all three groups will meet with the president of CSM to come to an administrative agreement that we do not have to mandate legislatively.”

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