"Do they even see us? Are we invisible?"

I had no answer for my friend Spencer, who may not be able to return to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County for his junior year this fall because of tuition increases.

Spencer is not alone. Thousands of students in the Maryland public university system are in the same fix, but as the first member of his family to attend college, Spencer really believed that his hard work would guarantee him a good college education.

Citing a long-term, structural budget deficit of $1 billion, Maryland lawmakers -- led by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) -- cut deeper into higher education in their recent session than into any other budget item. As a result, tuition at Maryland's state universities, which rose 20 percent last year, is expected to increase by almost 11 percent this fall. The projected funding cuts will deny enrollment at the state's 11 public campuses to about 3,000 qualified students, according to the University System of Maryland.

The solution to this problem is simple:

The legislature should override the governor's veto at its next regular session and pass House Bill 1188. This bill, the Higher Education Affordability and Access Act, cuts projected tuition increases in half, providing for a 5 percent tuition increase cap for the next three years and requiring increased support for the University of Maryland and Morgan State University during the next two years. Funding for the bill would come from a temporary 10 percent surcharge on corporate profits.

Even during the two years when the surcharge would be in effect, Maryland's corporate tax rate would be significantly lower than the rates in surrounding states. Indeed, Maryland is 50th out of 50 states in corporate tax rates, according to the conservative Council on State Taxation.

My friend Spencer has never cheated on an exam or assignment. He tries to pull his own weight by paying his tuition with the tips he earns working at a restaurant. But corporations -- two-thirds of which pay no Maryland income tax, thanks to loopholes -- don't want to pay their share toward the schools that educate their workers, the roads that bring customers to their stores, and the police officers and firefighters who protect their property.

During the past few months, students have written letters and made phone calls to lawmakers in support of HB 1188. The new president of the student body at the University of Maryland at College Park, Aaron Kraus, even went on a hunger strike outside the governor's mansion.

Now it's time for state legislators to do their part. The Democrats by themselves have the votes to override the governor's veto of the Higher Education Affordability and Access Act. If they live up to their own principles of opportunity for all, HB 1188 should become law.

-- Brigitte Pribnow

is a senior at University

of Maryland-Baltimore County.

and an intern

at Progressive Maryland.

brigp1@umbc.edu