As the 1986 Maryland General Assembly unfolds this week, issues of concern to the Washington suburban counties, primarily education and road construction, must vie for funds in the shadow of the state's savings and loan crisis.
Delegates from Prince George's and Montgomery counties insist that the attention to savings and loans will not push aside local matters. But by all accounts, this legislative session will be dominated by efforts to resolve the thift crisis, which has left thousands of depositors without access to their funds.
"I think this is going to be a very difficult session for a lot of reasons," said Del. Gene W. Counihan (D-Montgomery), predicting that savings and loan issues will control the agenda not only because of the crisis itself, but because of the state's need to retain its AAA bond rating so it can save money by offering lower interest rates to investors.
In Prince George's, there is consensus among delegates that the priority must be to secure funding for a dozen new magnet schools. But there is also hope that other state aid for education can be increased.
"It's the main concern for Prince George's County," said Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who heads the county's Senate delegation. "Our classrooms are overcrowded, our students don't have the proper utensils . . . we've got to increase our teachers' salaries . . . that's the bottom line for this session -- money."
This quest for increased state education aid would expand the formula adopted by the 1984 General Assembly to distribute $616 million in new funds to local school districts over five years.
While there is mixed opinion on the likelihood of boosting this fund, designed in part to narrow the gap between the state's richer and poorer jurisdictions, there is much more confidence among the county legislators that Gov. Harry Hughes will set aside some money for the magnet school program.
The program, implemented in the fall in an effort to resolve a 13-year-old desegregation lawsuit, has cost the county $9 million this school year and will cost an estimated $12 million each of the next four years. While the first-year budget was funded by a county surplus, Prince George's officials are hoping the state will underwrite much of the later-year costs.
"I think the governor is committed to money for magnet education," said Miller.
The remaining question, he said, is whether Hughes will ask the county to match a state contribution.
The magnet program, designed to integrate schools by drawing students out of their racially homogenous neighborhoods to attend specialized programs, was approved by U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman, who has the power to order state funding if needed.
"This year, it's been brought home to us that we're the last hope . . . now everybody's saying it's up to the General Assembly," said Miller.
Sen. Decatur W. Trotter (D-Prince George's) said a figure of $6 million to $8 million in state aid has been discussed in recent meetings with the governor. That would cover about half the 1986-87 cost, leaving the remainder to come from county or federal sources.
While legislators expect some resistance from other parts of the state, there is general optimism that at least some funding for magnet schools will be approved.
"There'll be some posturing," said Royal Hart, legislative liaison for the county. But, "when push comes to shove, everybody recognizes we're under a court order to do it . . . it's not a county problem, it was a state problem."
Funding for education is also a priority in Montgomery, as is money for road construction. In addition, legislators are proposing an extension to "ride-on" legislation that provides a state subsidy for bus transportation near Metro routes.
"There are three priorities we have in Montgomery County, and they are money, money and money," said Sen. Sidney Kramer (D-Montgomery).
In addition to the ride-on subsidy, he said, "we need funding for our hard-pressed road construction and we need money for school construction."
The ride-on subsidy, approved in 1984, has provided nearly $3 million to Montgomery, but it is to expire at the end of June, the close of the fiscal year. Legislators will argue that the subsidy, designed to promote the use of mass transit, be extended at an annual rate of about $1.5 million.
In other transportation issues, Counihan and Del. Michael R. Gordon (D-Montgomery) have proposed legislation that would prohibit use of the state's transportation trust fund for purposes other than transportation. It is an issue important in Montgomery, said Counihan, because of the need for new roads, particularly along the Rte. I-270 corridor.
There will be similar efforts to secure funding for new school construction and renovation, concentrated in the fast-growing Germantown and Gaithersburg areas.
Also of concern to Montgomery legislators are proposals by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist to shift appointment power for the planning board from the County Council to the executive.
Montgomery legislators cited a number of personal priorities, including a nonsmokers' bill of rights proposed by Kramer, a tax-amnesty program supported by Democratic Del. Mary H. Boergers, legislation mandating that trucks carrying loose material be covered, sponsored by Republican Sen. Howard A. Denis, and efforts to address the problems faced by municipalities and day care centers in obtaining affordable liability insurance.
In Prince George's, local bills include a measure sponsored by Trotter to expand from three to five the membership of the county board of election supervisors, in an effort to include black members; a bill to fund all-day kindergarten at 10 schools and a bond bill for $4.8 million to upgrade shock-trauma and other facilities at Prince George's General Hospital, both sponsored by Democratic Del. Albert Wynn.
While pressing ahead with their projects, legislators nevertheless sense a different environment this session. The bond bill to fund hospital improvements, for example, is threatened, said Wynn.
"That's the kind of thing I'm worried the savings and loan crisis will impact on . . . it will inhibit our ability to look at other areas," he said.