Local school districts in Maryland will be able to divide a total of $26.7 million in extra state education aid next year as a result of legislation enacted yesterday by the Maryland General Assembly.
This extra money - which comes to $33 extra for each of the state's 811,000 public school students - will bring the total amount of state school aid to $305 million, but the jurisdictions helped most by the change will be the less affluent and more crowded school systems like those of Baltimore City and Prince George's County.
"The costs of education had just outpaced what we expected. The state wasn't bearing it's share of the total cost any more," said Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery), who is one of the architects of the current systems of state grants to local school systems.
"This undoubtedly will have an impact on the local property tax rates as well," Maurer added, pointing out that any form of the state aid to local governments relieves them of some of the need to raise local revenues to pay their bills.
Approval came in the final 72 hours of a well paced, 90-day legislative session in which the bulk of the most emotional and controversial issues were cleared out of the way relatively early. Normally, the toughest bills are held up until the last few days, causing last-minute panic and hasty decision making.
The legislature has already resolved state funding for abortion, property tax relief, relief for utility rate payers, the death penalty and other potentially disruptive issues. The pacing has reflected a strong push from legislative leaders who have forced their colleagues to work at a steady and efficient pace almost from the beginning of the session.
Enactment of the new funding formula, which had been studied extensively by a special commission for the past two years, came on a unanimous 86-to-0 vote in the House of Delegates.
Under the new formula, the Prince George's County school system will receive an extra $4.7 million next year, bringing its total contributions from the state to about $54 million.
However, Montgomery County, which has seen its school population decrease steadily over the past three years, will actually lose some state aid next year, going down from $21 million to $19.2 million.
Nonetheless, because of the increase in state aid, Montgomery County will lose $1.7 million less than it otherwise would have, according to the figures of the State Department of Legislative Services.
By enacting the school aid change, the General Assembly sent to Acting Gov. Blair Lee III one of the last major pieces of expensive legislation still pending in the 1978 session.
Already this year, the legislators have pushed through the $4.35 billion budget bill and almost all of their major money bills relatively early in the session - including measures that return $30 million worth of property tax credits to selected state homeowners and that all State income taxpayers to itemize deductions on their state returns.
That leaves the legislators to wrestle with the more intractable long-range issues, including reform of the state's current costly pension system for teachers and state employees an a measure designed to strengthen laws governing the conduct of public officials.
One issue that came in with a bang and ended in a whimper yesterday was Lee's proposal to shift the site of a medium security state prison from an old can company building in Baltimore to an isolated city park near the Anne Arundel County border.
The Senate put that issue to rest by cutting off an eight-hour filibuster yesterday afternoon and voting 40 to 7 to build a new 90-bed prison on the grounds of Fort Armistead Park, a 38-acre lot near the Patapsco River in South Baltimore.
By giving final approval to a measure passed by the House last week, the Senate reversed one of the most controversial bills of last year's session that located the prison at the site of the old Continental Can building in East Baltimore.
Lee proposed a shift in prison sites after months of opposition by residents and political leaders of East Baltimore who accused him of insensitivity to lower middle class concerns and complicity in a deal to buy the land from a developer with ties to now suspended governor Marvin Mandel, who pushed through the purchase last year.
By moving prison sites to another part of the city, Lee appeased the East Baltimore community while risking a rupture with residents and politicians of the South Baltimore and North Anne Arundel areas surrounding the Fort Armistead location.
Measures to strengthen the ethics code for politicans and to equalize property division in a divorce were approved by House committees yesterday. Changes were made in both bills, however, before they were passed on to the full House for approval. This means the Senate must agree to the amendments before the bills are enacted.
The ethics bill underwent two major changes. The House Constitutional and Administration Committee voted to allow politicians to accept gifts worth $75 or less and took out a provision forbidding politicians from using the prestige of office for private gain.
"They'e voting to legalize bribery," said Lee Periman, lobbyist for Common Cause, when the committee took out the provision that politicians should not accept any gifts.
The ethics bill is an attempt to bring all laws governing financial disclosure and conflict of interest under one statute. The "prestige of office" provision has been seen as one of the major tools that a commission, also set up under the bill, could use to monitor politician's ethics.