Faced with a growing student population and aging schools, the General Assembly approved yesterday $80 million for public school construction, one of the largest budgets since the 1970s.
The funds for schools -- $20 million more than the amount requested by Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- will help ease an "enormous backlog," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's.
State officials will decide later this month what school projects will be funded with the extra money.
The school funding was part of the $350 million capital budget consisting of more than 140 projects ranging from prisons and hospitals to wastewater treatment plants, museums and parkland.
House and Senate conferees spent three days haggling and pleading for pet projects. The six conferees were also the targets of last-minute lobbying.
During one of their sessions, a plainclothes state police officer quietly distributed envelopes to several members. "My friend," began the letter from Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-City, who quickly got to his point: $1 million each for an ambulatory care center at Liberty Medical Center and a day-care center at Union Baptist Church. He got both.
Another letter arrived from Mr. Schaefer, who requested $400,000 to move My Sister's Place, a Baltimore shelter for homeless women that was destroyed by arson last week. That was approved, too.
Some lawmakers joked as they moved to approve some of the local projects, known as pork barrel.
Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, questioned the BTC need for urban renewal in Rockville. Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, a conferee whose district borders Rockville, said the area was in "poor shape" and its revitalization would boost state tax revenues.
"Oink, oink, oink," said a smiling Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, just before the Senate vote.
Mr. Maloney, a conferee, emerged a big winner, picking up $2.5 million for construction of a minor league baseball stadium in his home county and $2.2 million toward a performing arts center at the University of Maryland College Park.
Other major projects include:
* $13 million for parkland acquisition, known as Program Open Space, exceeding by more than $4 million what the governor had requested.
* $6 million toward a new cancer center at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
* $7 million for the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research at the Inner Harbor.
* $4 million for the Silver Spring urban renewal project.
* $2 million for the renovation of Rockville.
Lawmakers and state officials say the legislature's move to boost school construction money will ease a strain on the counties, particularly the high-growth areas. "Montgomery County has a lot of school construction needs," said Del. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery.
Local jurisdictions requested about $200 million for school construction last fall. The city and Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties made the most requests.
In January, the Board of Public Works approved $47 million for 74 school construction projects for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.