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Officials To Seek More Aid For Schools

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page GZ15

Montgomery County legislators are preparing to renew their drive for more state aid for county schools and transportation projects when the General Assembly convenes next week.

The funding requests are county legislators' top priority this year but could be overshadowed by an expected debate about how commissioners are appointed to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan wants $125 million for school construction.

The delegation also will debate several local bills, including whether to prohibit roadside soliciting, allow police to set up cameras to catch speeding motorists, and make it easier for beer and liquor to be sold near libraries.

After two years of lean state budgets, Montgomery's delegation and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) are hoping for an increase in state funding and are requesting more than $100 million in state aid for school construction.

The county is also hoping to secure $1.5 million for a technology incubator in Germantown, $1.3 million for the soon-to-be completed Strathmore Hall Music Center and tens of millions of dollars for Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove, an affiliate of the University System of Maryland.

"I think it is important that Montgomery County continues to get its fair share of the revenues," said Del. Charles E. Barkley (D), chairman of the Montgomery County House delegation. "We don't want an overabundance, but we do want a fair share."

But with a stalemate between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly over how to generate additional revenue, the county's request for $125 million in school construction funds seems far-fetched.

The county requested $59 million for school construction last year but received $9 million. This year the county is requesting more school construction money than the state allocated to all counties combined last year.

"It is not going to be easy for us," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D), who chairs the county's Senate delegation. "They view us as the county with plenty of money."

With Maryland facing a $300 million shortfall in next year's budget, local governments should not expect a windfall of additional state aid, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver. "The budget will reflect Maryland's current fiscal realities," she said.

Besides fighting for increased aid for the county, Duncan -- who is attempting to position himself for a possible run for governor in 2006 -- also plans to lobby for legislation that could boost his statewide appeal in a Democratic primary.

He plans to support initiatives to expand health coverage for the uninsured, lower the cost of prescription drugs, boost funding for higher education and limit emissions from coal-fired electricity-generating plants.

He also intends to be a vocal critic of proposals to bring slot machine gambling to Maryland.

"As the top elected official from the state's largest jurisdiction, he should have a high profile, and he will," said David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman.

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