Republicans Say Schools Decision Was Schaefer's Revenge

April 19, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

The state Board of Public Works meeting last week left some Republican members of the county's General Assembly delegation feeling punished for their "no" votes on new state taxes.

In allocating additional school construction money, the board passed over the county's two top priorities -- the western high school and northern elementary school -- to award money for a renovation project at Oakland Mills High School in the district represented by Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-District 13A. Thomas was the lone county delegate to vote in favor of thetax package.

Lack of state aid will not delay the two schools. Both are in County Executive Charles I. Ecker's 1992-1993 capital budget proposal. Paying the full cost with local bonds will add nearly $1 million a year to the debt service paid by county taxpayers over the average 20-year life of the bonds.

Del. John S. Morgan, R-District 13B, reactedmost strongly.

"I believe Howard County was treated poorly. It was obvious the governor made the decision on who voted for taxes rather than who needed construction funds," said Morgan, former chairman of the citizens advisory committee to the school board. "The governor has always been vindictive and he's being vindictive this time."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer denied Thursday on a radio talk show thathe used $35 million in additional school construction money to reward legislators who supported the new taxes. But he also criticized "people who vote against everything (then) come to you and say, 'My district wants this and my district wants that.' "

A press release from the governor's office announcing $805,000 in state aid for renovations and an addition at Oakland Mills High School specifically thankedThomas "for her support of school construction."

The county got $5.7 million in state aid for the western middle, northeastern elementary schools and Oakland Mills, but did not get the $8.7 million it sought for the western high school and $2.5 million for the northern elementary. The northern elementary school received planning recognition, a prerequisite for future financing.

State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-District 14, and Del. Robert H. Kittleman, R-District 14B, whose districts include both rejected projects, said the action appeared political.

McCabe said it was "not my purpose in going to Annapolis to bring back public money for school construction or other projects per se." He added, "If we get as a state to the position where individual legislators have to get involved in a political way to geta project approved, I think we're going the wrong way."

Other Republican delegation members argued that no evidence showed that the aid was tied to tax votes, that Howard did well this year on state aid,and that they shouldn't have to lobby for individual projects in their districts.

Del. Robert H. Flanagan, R-District 14B, the delegation chairman, said he didn't have enough evidence to know whether rejection of the projects was "some kind of slight."

Del. Martin G. Madden, R-District 13B, said he was convinced the public works board allocated the money fairly and "Howard County didn't get shortchanged." State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-District 13, agreed.

Thomas said she worked hard for the Oakland Mills project, meeting personally with the governor to lobby for it. She criticized her colleagues for notmaking similar efforts.

"We lost money for the county. That's inexcusable," she said. "We have to be able to fight for our share of the money and win. This is not a pork barrel. These are reasonable projects and we deserve to have them funded."

Kittleman said that if the school construction money was

"reward and punish," this was thefirst time. The InterAgency Committee for School Construction, whichrecommends projects to the public works board, "has always been veryfair and even-handed," he said.

The Republicans "are not that naive," said school board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig. "It has always been perceived, maybe not as directly obvious as this particular incident, but it has always been a political process."

Schaefer made the final culling of $35 million in projects from $59 million worth of requests, said IAC Director Yale Stenzler. Stenzler said he was not privy to the governor's reasoning on the selection, but pointed out that total aid to Howard was proportional to Montgomery County's, whosedelegation generally voted for the new tax measures.

Howard received $5.7 million on $26.5 million in requests. Montgomery got $18.7 million on $88.6 million in requests, about 21 percent each, Stenzler said.

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