CALIFORNIA, Md. — Back on April 10, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot[D] announced that the state could be faced with a $2.8 billion shortfall as a result of COVID-19 wreaking havoc, and cuts would have to be made.

Now, at their most recent meeting on May 20, the Maryland Board of Public Works(BPW) voted unanimously to approve cutting nearly $121 million in funds from the current fiscal year’s budget, including $31 million which had been designated towards constructing the “third building” at the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland(USMSM), previously known as the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center off of Airport Road.

“We as leaders… will inevitably have to make some tough choices,” Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford[R] said at the BPW Zoom meeting. “[To] contend with the fact that while we may not be able to do everything that we want to do, or fund everything that we want to fund, right now in the short term we do have a fiduciary responsibility to all Marylanders to be responsible not only to them, but to future generations.”

Although the current fiscal year ends on June 30, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates projected that state revenues could drop by upwards of $1.1 billion by then. This would create a significant shortfall that would in turn require funding cuts be made to meet the constitutional obligation of balancing the state budget.

“The reductions proposed today represent the next necessary step in the administration’s plan to protect our state’s finances,” Budget and Management Secretary David Brinkley said at the meeting. “The administration’s general strategy is to harness general funds that have been set aside for capital projects and that have not been spent or allocated to specific projects, or that are not needed at this time. As such, no projects are being canceled and the state can use the unallocated funding to help cover this year’s shortfall.”

The BPW, comprised of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan[R] or Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and Comptroller Franchot, made the decision following reports that the project in Southern Maryland will still be on pace even with the cuts.

State Senator Jack Bailey[R-29], along with the Southern Maryland delegation have seen the development and expansion of USMSM’s third building as a priority since back when it was still referred to as the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center. Now, they have new and unforeseen hurdles to jump over as a result of the coronavirus.

“The Administration believes that there will be an additional bond premium during FY2021 which would, ideally, offset the budget cut,” Bailey’s Chief of Staff Christina Vigorito explained in an email. “If for some reason that revenue source does not completely materialize, the funding can be supplemented with the next proposed budget which should be submitted in January for FY2022. It is our understanding that the [Department of Budget and Management] has informed USM that the project would go forward no matter what… This was a very unforeseen situation but the Department of Budget and Management seems committed to working with USM to ensure that it is completed.”

While it is still unclear how damaging this delay will be on the project’s timeline, this is just one of the first round of financial hiccups that the state and Southern Maryland will be dealing with down the road.

“Obviously, the reductions that we are looking at today are $120,661,000 in the current fiscal year… That’s just the beginning,” Franchot said at the meeting. “We are going to have significant reductions down the road, I don’t want to leave any false hope for people that this is going to be a minor bit of surgery. It’s a new fiscal reality that we are going to have for the next several years…”

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