ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 23 -- A key Senate committee is expected to deliver a potentially fatal blow Wednesday to a public math and science boarding school, one of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's favorite projects before the Maryland General Assembly.
"The climate is not favorable," said Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, which has scheduled what is expected to be a near-unanimous vote opposing legislation to create the school.
"I'm really amazed at the lack of support, to be honest with you," said Blount, who favors the special school, where 600 of Maryland's brightest teen-agers would live and study.
According to legislative leaders, the measure faces a similar fate in the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, which is being asked to include $13.3 million in next year's budget to start the school. "My sense of Budget and Tax is there is not much support for it," the committee chairman, Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), said today.
The proposal faces a somewhat brighter future in the House of Delegates, where many members of the Appropriations Committee remain ambivalent about the school, which Schaefer would like to open next year.
Yet the opposition in the Senate foreshadows what may become this year's first major legislative defeat for Schaefer, who has championed the math-science school since his 1986 campaign and says that it would help compensate for a growing national shortage of scientists and mathematicians.
Wednesday's vote could bring Schaefer's second setback this week in the Senate. On Monday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) divided into four bills the governor's top priority for the 90-day session: legislation to revamp the state's college system.
Miller's move angered Schaefer, who says that the package has a better chance of passing if its many elements -- including a tuition savings plan and a new way of allotting money to community colleges -- are tied.
Today, Schaefer's aides continued to lobby the few senators who had not made up their minds on the math-science school, but the aides acknowledged that the effort was probably futile.
"It is widely known what the Senate is going to do" Wednesday, said David Falk, a budget official who has worked intensively for nearly a year to develop the school proposal. Falk accused Miller of engineering the bill's defeat, saying that the Senate president "has seen fit to kill the bill without even allowing an opportunity to work on amendments with the committee."
"The politics of the issue have taken precedent," Falk said, "and the losers are Maryland, specifically Prince George's County," which Miller represents and which contains the preferred site for the school, a middle school in Greenbelt.
Miller replied: "I don't know what he's talking about. I haven't asked anybody to support the bill or to oppose the bill."
Schaefer and his aides have mounted a vigorous campaign for the school. They have led legislators on expeditions to similar schools in North Carolina and Illinois and have enlisted the support of Maryland's business leaders, who contend that the school would help lure high-tech companies to the state by demonstrating its commitment to new technologies.