Schaefer teaches politics to educators They seek state aid, get quizzed on effort

February 28, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer offered a lesson in political reality to local officials angling for $57.7 million in school construction funds this year: Subdivisions that want more money should be prepared to lobby the state legislature for new taxes.

At a state Board of Public Works hearing yesterday, the governor required representatives of 13 subdivisions to recite their lobbying efforts on behalf of the $800 million Linowes tax restructuring plan before they could speak on any other topic.

"We don't have the money," Governor Schaefer told local school administrators and their supporters. "There are some bills down in the state legislature that can help us out. I guess we'll have to hold them [budget requests] to find out what happens with Linowes."

Mr. Schaefer's own Linowes lobbying efforts have intensified in recent days amid increasing signs that legislators are unwilling to swallow such a large tax increase this year.

A report presented yesterday to the House Ways and Means Committee by the Department of Fiscal Services, the legislature's chief financial adviser, questioned whether the Linowes recommendations shift the tax burden from poor and middle-income residents to the wealthy as proponents have claimed.

The Linowes tax proposals "in some instances appear to fall fairly heavily on low- and middle-income taxpayers," wrote William S. Ratchford II, the department's director.

The 11-page report also takes issue with another Linowes premise: that counties would be made less dependent on property tax revenues. In fact, according to Mr. Ratchford's study, the Linowes proposal would not significantly increase local aid after the first year.

The three-member Board of Public Works, which the governor chairs, approved nearly $46 million in grants for school construction and renovations yesterday, but must decide over the next month how the remaining $12 million is to be spent.

Much to Mr. Schaefer's frustration, few county officials produced evidence of great support for Linowes among their various House and Senate delegations. Nevertheless, they showed no reluctance in asking for more state aid for schools.

"I want people to have some courage," said state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a fellow board member, "Take the bull by the tail and lookhim square in the face."

In one particularly telling exchange, Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, a Republican from relatively affluent Howard County, told the governor he had no intention of voting for Linowes.

When he was campaigning last fall, Delegate Flanagan said, voters told him "we're pretty heavily taxed already."

Mr. Schaefer said that politicians "hide behind that" argument and that responsible government must provide for the mentally retarded, kidney dialysis patients, the homeless and for schools. "You might want to take a look at where the money goes," he told Mr. Flanagan.

The state generally pays from 50 percent to 75 percent of school construction costs, depending on subdivision's ability to pay. For the first time in recent memory, difficult financial times will force the state to spend less on school construction in fiscal 1992 than this year.

But since local governments are also having difficulty making ends meet, Maryland is faced with a record $1 billion in school construction requests over the next five years, officials said.

"These are tough times, and you have to make some tough decisions," Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, told the board. "With all due respect to Linowes, I do not think a recession is the proper time to take money out of the marketplace."

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