ANNAPOLIS — With a budget bill passed this weekend and the University System of Maryland successfully lobbying for limited cuts to its state funding, the final day of the state’s legislative session was less intense for the higher education lobby.
The most significant bills for this university and the university system received support in both chambers of the legislature and passed with little controversy.
But for what amounted to a quiet day, the university system secured significant victories, with measures that use university resources to spur economic development and a state grant program aimed at attracting talented faculty to state universities passing one right after the other on the morning of sine die.
One bill establishes the Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone Program. This program would create “zones” in which businesses will be able to coordinate with the state, county or municipality to take advantage of certain tax credits and other incentives. The RISE zone status can be granted to areas defined by educational institutions, such as a university, that “have a strong and demonstrated history of commitment to economic development and revitalization in the communities in which they are located,” according to a state analysis of the bill.
With the creation of this program, university lobbyists hope that this university and College Park will be given an opportunity to apply for the designation of a RISE zone and begin to attract businesses and development projects to bolster the local economy. While the exact “zone” around the university is yet to be determined, Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) said he’d like this bill to help attract development along Route 1 and near the College Park Metro Station.
Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said it would give universities an opportunity to ask how they want campuses and the areas around campuses to grow.
“We’re going to see more profitable businesses moving their institutions because they’ll see the opportunity there,” Pugh said.
This RISE program would also allow the state to better recognize the potential for economic growth coming out of the state’s universities, said university lobbyist Ross Stern.
“A lot of intellectual capital is created in a university,” Stern said. “Hopefully, the local regional economy can then develop companies coming out of that and create economic development and get sort of a positive feedback loop going.”
The incentives for businesses locating in these zones are undetermined, but Rosapepe said the bill “provides a lot of flexibility for the city, the university and the county together to come up with some proposed incentives the state might give, and the county or the city might give, to try to get the kind of development we want.”
A second bill aimed at attracting high-quality faculty passed with little trouble. It creates the E-Nnovation Initiative Program, through which the state would match a university’s fundraising efforts to create an endowed chair for specific fields and departments.
“If we go out and raise a million dollars from company ‘X’ to endow a chair in a field that’s listed in that bill, the state will match that,” Stern said. “This is an attempt to bring superstar faculty to the state, it’s an interesting way to help us raise money to endow chairs.”
The fields listed in the bill for which the state would match funds include cyber technology; energy and environmental sciences; nanotechnology and materials sciences; advanced medical and public health science; quantum computing and engineering; transportation, space and aerospace sciences; biometrics; gerontology; neurosciences; language sciences; and high-tech manufacturing processes.
The endowment would go toward funding professorships, endowed chairs and related private-public partnerships.
“What we hope is that with the emergence of cyber security and other technologies that are now taking place,” said House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel), “universities can start to draw the best and the brightest research educators in the country.”
Busch also hopes that by bringing in the best faculty, the state could “become the hub for cyber security on the East Coast.”