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Posted at 12:06 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

O'Malley to propose $250 million in school construction, aide tells county leaders

By John Wagner

Despite a tough budget year ahead, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) remains committed to spending at least another $250 million on public school construction, a top aide said Friday.

"One of the important things that goes into student learning is the environment in which they're educated," said Joseph C. Bryce, O'Malley's chief legislative officer. "It remains a priority."

Bryce spoke on a panel with Maryland legislative leaders previewing the upcoming 90-day session at a gathering of county officials in Cambridge.

The lawmakers forecast a session dominated by fiscal issues as well as robust debates over issues including legalizing same-sex marriage and offering in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities to children of illegal immigrants.

The state is facing a shortfall of about $1.3 billion in its general fund, the primary operating budget. School construction is funded in the separate capital budget, which Bryce stressed is heavily strained as well. He said O'Malley is not likely to propose many new projects outside of school construction.

Spending $250 million next year would meet the recommendation of a 2004 commission headed by State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D).

Over the past decade, school construction funding bottomed out in fiscal 2004, during the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), at $116.5 million.

O'Malley campaigned on the issue in 2006, and the state spent $400 million during his first year in office.

O'Malley, who addressed the conference of the Maryland Association of Counties on Thursday night, had pledged to submit a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes no tax increases.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he does not think lawmakers will pass "revenue measures" either but did not rule out the possibility.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), who has advocated an increase in the gas tax to pay for transportation projects, knocked incoming lawmakers who have categorically ruled out voting for any tax increases.

"Those people aren't worth the powder you'd blow them up with," Miller said, speaking in his typical blunt fashion.

Miller also took note of O'Malley's announcement Thursday that he would not support shifting a portion of teacher pension costs to counties in he coming year.

"He made you feel good," Miller told the county leaders, saying the decision was "kick(ing) the can down the road."

"Fine," Miller said, "we'll have to deal with it next year."

The panel also featured House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), who urged his colleagues to act sooner rather than later to address a long-term challenge facing the state: more than $30 billion in unfunded liabilities for future employee pensions and other post-employment benefits.

O'Donnell also urged more sweeping reform of the current pension system to contain costs.

"I'm not sure nibbling around the edges is going to do it," O'Donnell said.

By John Wagner  | January 7, 2011; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly, John Wagner  
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Comments

Raise the gas tax, that's a joke right? There are no restrictions on where money from the gas tax can go. The so called Transportation Trust Fund is broke cause OMalley and crew routinely raid it to pay for everything BUT transportation. I say put freeze on all new school construction. If people who have school age kids want to pay higher taxes to fund school construction, good, the rest of us with no kids should be exempt.

Posted by: VikingRider | January 7, 2011 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Slots are going to solve all of the education budget woes.

Next, they can stop wasting money on school buildings that rival shopping malls in architecture, design, and expense. All schools should be simplistic, pre-fabricated, modular, and easily expandable for increases in enrollment. Extra design features, such as soaring stressed wood arched hallways, recessed lighting, and Light House Reading Rooms, should be at the expense of the schools' PTA or PTO fund raising efforts. Two elementary schools were built in Anne Arundel to accommodate only a slightly higher number of students than was already enrolled. At one of those schools, the space for the highly boasted science and computer labs was available for use for exactly two years before the rooms were converted to regular classrooms.

Posted by: Nghbrhdwatch | January 8, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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