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House Approves Capital Funds for Schools

By John Wagner
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page B05

The Maryland House of Delegates approved a $665 million capital budget for next year that includes roughly $250 million for public school construction and renovation projects.

The money for schools, which is about $100 million more than Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) recommended, meets a target suggested by a commission that studied the adequacy of Maryland's school facilities.

The House voted 137 to 0 to adopt the fiscal 2006 capital budget, which also includes money for universities, hospitals, museums and an array of other projects. The state's fiscal year starts in July.

The Senate plans to act in coming days on its version of a capital budget, which will include $200 million to $225 million for school construction, said UlyssesCurrie (D-Prince George's), Senate budget committee chairman.

Currie said the Senate will not follow the House lead of earmarking dollars for some specified school projects in its budget. Instead, all money will be distributed based on the number of schoolchildren in each county, he said.

Separately yesterday, budget negotiators from the House and Senate started working through several dozen differences in their versions of the state's operating budget of more than $25 billion.

"While there are differences, none of them are insurmountable," Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said at the outset of yesterday's session.

Separate teams of negotiators are also scheduled to start talks today on whether to offer homeowners a property tax break of nearly 5 cents per $100 in assessed value next year, as the House has proposed. The Senate budget does not include a tax break.

Connector Funding Advances

The Senate yesterday gave preliminary approval to funding for the intercounty connector, a controversial proposed highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

In advancing the $750 million financing arrangement, the Senate added an amendment that would place a seven-mile bicycle and pedestrian path along a portion of the 18-mile connector route. Efforts to build a path, contained in earlier plans for the highway, have been resisted by the state Department of Transportation because of the estimated $100 million cost of a path running the full 18 miles.

The bill passed yesterday would allow the state to sell $750 million in so-called Garvee bonds for the road project, which could cost an estimated $2.4 billion.

Garvee bonds pledge future federal highway dollars to repay the debt. Additional bond money would be paid off with toll revenue from the connector and other Maryland Transportation Authority facilities.

A final vote is expected this week in the Senate; the House has approved a similar bill.

Teen Driver Phone Ban Approved

A bill prohibiting novice teenage drivers from using cell phones has cleared the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

The Senate passed a measure yesterday that bars teenage drivers from using cell phones during the 18-month provisional license period. The House passed an identical measure last month.

Ehrlich has not said whether he will sign the bill but has suggested that he favors the measure.

Panel Widens Hate Crime Criteria

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday narrowly approved a bill to add sexual orientation to the criteria protected by the state's hate crimes laws.

The measure, which has passed the House, cleared the Senate panel by a vote of 6 to 5.

Staff writers David Snyder and Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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