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The Nose

Honey for Hopkins

Posted 2/6/2002

These are tight times for state government. A big chunk of the state pension plan vanished when the tech-stock bubble burst last year. The revenue flow, not long ago a swollen stream into state coffers, has slowed to unsettlingly low levels. Still, a few fat slices of the shrinking budget pie are proposed for the care and feeding of one particularly mammoth sacred cow. The Nose took a gander recently at the $579 million list of capital projects in Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget to see how much is going to Baltimore City--about 10 percent--and the words "Johns Hopkins University" kept jumping off the page. Here's a tax-exempt corporation that in the last several years has raised $1.8 billion in private donations for capital projects, and it's slated to get nearly $10 million in public capital-improvement funds--17 percent of the city's total take. Does wealthy Hopkins really warrant state aid at this level, when countless other projects--rehabbing city schools, say, or reopening some of our closed museums--are underfunded or overlooked?

"They do," asserts state Sen. Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore City/County), who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "They're the largest employer in the state. They bring in a lot of dollars, so we help them build the buildings."

The Hopkins buildings the state is helping to build or expand this year are a chemistry building at the Homewood campus ($2.6 million), a research building at the medical school ($2.9 million), and improvements at the school of public health ($4.1 million). The first is a one-time deal, Hopkins flack Dennis O'Shea explains, but the latter two are this year's installments on multiyear aid packages totaling $30 million.

Reminded by the Nose of how much Hopkins raises in private donations, Hoffman reminds us that she doesn't need to be reminded. "They raised a ton of money, and now they're starting another campaign. . . . I can tell you because I work at Hopkins," as an education-policy adviser for the school's Center for Talented Youth. "They hit the state up [for capital funds] because the state has a legitimate interest" in boosting higher education, she says, adding, "They get a lot of money from the state because they deserve it." As for her own support for Hopkins handouts, Hoffman says, "it isn't because I work there. It's because I represent citizens who benefit."

The Nose, however, finds in Hopkins' Annapolis clout an excellent case study of insider power. Along with budget titan Hoffman, the school has close ties to another legislative powerhouse, Sen. Robert Neall (D-Anne Arundel County), a former Hopkins vice president, and House Majority Leader Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City/County), who works for Hopkins' Office of Federal Government Relations. JHU's ace in the hole, though, is Frederick Puddester, the highly respected former secretary of the Maryland Department of Budget and Management. After 21 years as the state's fiscal whiz--four of them in Glendening's cabinet--Puddester was tapped two years ago to become Hopkins' budget chief.

Clearly, Hopkins is not lacking in good connections. Hoffman insists that doesn't ensure a flow of funds. "Hopkins won't always be in the budget," she says. "And they haven't always been in the budget." This year, though, it's making out all right.

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