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More for Schools, But Less for Roads

County Has Mixed Results in Assembly

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page GZ18

As Maryland's General Assembly adjourned this week, legislators agreed to give Montgomery County three times more aid for school construction than last year, but reduced support for county transportation and land preservation programs.

"We did pretty well," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery), who chairs the county's Senate delegation. "We will lose some, but everyone is losing."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), left, debates Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset) in the Assembly's final hours. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

_____Maryland Government_____
Strong Showing For School Board Bill (The Washington Post, Apr 14, 2005)
Frederick Requests Mostly Unheeded (The Washington Post, Apr 14, 2005)
Duncan's Faith May Not Follow Church (The Washington Post, Apr 14, 2005)
Assembly Session Marked by Partisan Discord (The Washington Post, Apr 14, 2005)
Full Report

Meanwhile, disagreements between the Montgomery and Prince George's County delegations stalled efforts to change how commissioners are appointed to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

And although legislators agreed to make it easier to hold wine festivals in the county, and won passage of a plan to establish speed monitoring systems in school and residential zones, they could not reach a consensus on reducing Montgomery's deer population.

But the big issue for county legislators in Annapolis this year was the fight over school construction dollars.

After Democratic legislative leaders in Annapolis added an additional $100 million to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s school construction budget, a House of Delegates and Senate conference committee agreed over the weekend to give Montgomery $30.4 million for school construction projects.

That amount falls far short of the $125 million requested by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), but it far exceeds the $9 million granted to the county last year.

"I think the school construction situation, thanks to the General Assembly, was a big winner for us," Duncan said. "I think Montgomery County held its own. The problem is the governor."

Noting that Montgomery County received more than $400 million in state aid this session, including about $300 million for public schools, an Ehrlich spokesman said Duncan's criticism of the governor was unfair.

"Local aid for Montgomery County increased this year, as it has every year since Ehrlich has been in office. Montgomery County got a record increase in education funding this year, as it has every year since Governor Ehrlich got into office," said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.

Yet, for the third consecutive year, the demise of Ehrlich's plan to legalize slot machine gambling has resulted in a $12 million gap in the county school system's operating budget for fiscal 2006.

When he prepared his budget for the next fiscal year, Duncan assumed the General Assembly and governor would fund a provision of the Thornton plan called the geographic cost of education index.

The Thornton plan was a landmark public school financing legislation approved by the General Assembly in 2002. It included a provision to give extra money to wealthier jurisdictions, including Montgomery and Prince George's counties, to make up for geographic differences in the cost of living and teacher salaries.

Ehrlich, however, has made allocating those extra funds contingent upon General Assembly approval of slots.

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