Delegation Flunks Schaefer's Litmus Test For School Aid

Flanagan Won't Vote For Linowes Tax Plan

March 03, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Howard County's General Assembly delegation flunked the William Donald Schaefer litmus test for state school construction aid last week.

Schaefer's question, asked of each of the 13 county school systemsthat appealed for state aid Wednesday in Annapolis, was: Where does your delegation stand on the Linowes commission's recommendations to revise the state's tax structure?

"I'm not going to vote for it," delegation chairman Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, replied -- a response that met with laughter around theroom.

It may not matter by the time the state Board of Public Works -- composed of Schaefer, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer -- issues its decision on the county school system's appeal for state aid for the planned northeastern elementary and western middle schools.

The Board of Public Works decision is expected in three to four weeks. The Linowes commission recommendations for restructuring the tax system are expected to be referred for summerstudy.

But even if it does matter, Flanagan figures Howard Countywill come out ahead.

The Linowes commission, chaired by Montgomery County lawyer R. Robert Linowes, recommended a package of measures that would increase state taxes and reduce local property taxes.

The changes would generate an estimated $800 million in state tax revenue and would include an increase in the state sales tax from 5 to 5.5 percent and a new 2 percent personal property tax on cars and boats. Some critics have charged that the Linowes package would funnel money from the state's wealthier counties to poorer subdivisions, such as Baltimore.

Flanagan said later that opposition to the Linowes commission recommendations was very strong among the Howard delegation,which is largely Republican. He said his personal opposition was based on comments he heard from county residents during the fall election campaign.

"The people I represent feel that they are heavily taxed and they feel government should be living within its means," Flanagan said.

By his admittedly rough calculations, adoption of the Linowes tax package would mean Howard Countians would pay an additional $40 million in state taxes. The state aid for the two schools wouldbe a total of $8.5 million, $5.1 million for the western middle school and $3.4 million for the northeastern elementary.

"If someone tells me we'll give you a few million dollars for schools if you'll vote for many millions more in taxes, that doesn't add up," Flanagan said.

County officials have not indicated that the two schools are in

any danger of being taken off Howard's list of bond-financed projects if the state refuses to share the cost, said Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations.

Cousin pointed out that Howard County has "forward funded" more than $100 million worth of school construction projects since 1985, and has received only about $17 million in state reimbursement. Yale Stenzler, director of the state Interagency Committee for School Construction, puts the state figure higher, at $24 million.

In either case, Cousin said, "I think they (the Board of Public Works) recognize the commitment the county has made over the years is far beyond what most other subdivisions have done."

County Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks said a final decision on whether to include the schools in the county's 1991-1992 bond financing package rests with County Executive Charles I.Ecker.

Ecker will look at the bond affordability committee's recommendations for county bond sales in 1991-1992, due out in the next few weeks, and at other capital projects competing with schools, Wackssaid.

The county government's debt service is currently 3.5 percent of assessable base, well below the 12 percent limit set in the county charter. However, as current revenues drop, county officials may sell fewer bonds to keep the debt service level down, Wacks said.

"It's like you can't put too much on your credit card," he said.

He said roads are also a major county government priority. The $120.9 million in capital budget requests for 1991-1992 now before the county planning board includes $10 million to acquire rights-of-way and begin preliminary construction on Route 100. Also requested is $4.9 million to "forward fund" the state share of road projects that include improvements to U.S. 40 and Route 32.

The Board of Public Works was the final appeal agency for the two school projects. However, county school officials can try again next year if the schools are rejected for state funding this year.

The IAC, which reviews local schoolsystems' requests for state cost-sharing on new buildings and renovations, rejected the projects in January.

The IAC approved $1.2 million toward the $11 million Elkridge Elementary School replacement and $2.6 million toward an $8.8 million southeastern elementary school to open in August 1992.

The state agency also approved planning recognition -- an acknowledgment that the project is needed, which generally leads to state financing the next fiscal year -- for the western middle school.

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