Schools Among Top County Funding Priorities
Thursday, January 4, 2007
With the inauguration this month of Democrat Martin O'Malley as Maryland's 61st governor, Montgomery County's all-Democratic legislative team has high hopes for the General Assembly session that begins next week in Annapolis.
Local legislative leaders are preparing initiatives to lower the voter registration age to 16, take junk food out of school cafeterias and tighten tailpipe emissions standards, in addition to asking the new governor for millions of dollars to build a Rockville courthouse and a music venue in Silver Spring.
At the top of their list, state lawmakers say, are two pricey campaign promises: $400 million for school construction and full funding of the state school aid formula approved in 2002.
Last year, Montgomery received $40 million to build and renovate schools. This year, the delegation is asking for $134 million.
"It's a big jump, but that is our need. That's what the county is ready and willing to build," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan (D-Montgomery), the vice chairman of the budget committee.
The state's largest jurisdiction stands to gain $30 million to $35 million in state education funding if O'Malley decides to pay for a geographic component of the school aid formula that accounts for factors such as the cost of living and the difficulty attracting teachers to low-performing schools. For neighboring Prince George's, as much as $43 million is at stake.
Outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has never allotted money for the geographic formula, a distinction O'Malley drew during his campaign.
"He's said, 'We're going to do it,' " said Sen.-elect Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who will join Hogan on the powerful budget panel. "Unfortunately, the budget realities might make it difficult for O'Malley."
The governor must present a budget blueprint on Jan. 19, just days after taking office. And projections show the state facing a $400 million shortfall for fiscal 2008 and a $1.6 billion gap the following year.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) arrived at O'Malley's transition office in Baltimore last month with a long list of transportation and construction projects he hopes the new governor will support, and a goal of changing the statewide perception that Montgomery is wealthy enough to pay for such projects on its own.
"We have tremendous needs, and he appreciates that," Leggett said, emerging from the hour-long meeting with O'Malley.
Among the county's big-ticket items: $62 million for a new Rockville district courthouse; $40 million for Montgomery College, including a science center on the Rockville campus; and $2 million to open a Birchmere Music Hall in Silver Spring.