Capital budget OK'd schools big winners

April 12, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Schoolchildren were among the big winners yesterday as the Maryland legislature overwhelmingly passed a $380 million capital budget, including $82 million for school construction.

Combined with other state funds, it brings the total money allocated for school construction next year to $106 million, $19 million more than this year. The sum reflects the need to accommodate a growing student population and to address the problem of aging buildings.

Legislators also approved $38 million for part of a new prison in Western Maryland and $250,000 for a feasibility study for a possible sports complex to house the Washington Bullets and Capitals. Other allocations included $1 million for a baseball stadium in Salisbury, $500,000 to help renovate Pikesville's Pikes Theater and $1.25 million for rebricking Main Street in Annapolis.

In short, it was a typical election-year smorgasbord, filled with dozens of tangible prizes that lawmakers can point to when they return home to campaign for re-election.

Legislators decided over the weekend which projects to finance, in what is one of the most entertaining and brazenly political processes of the General Assembly session.

It began Friday in a small room where a conference committee of six lawmakers -- three from the House and three from the Senate -- sat across from one another and haggled for hours. Drinking Diet Coke and munching on Oreos, they decided the fate of scores of projects in what amounted to a multimillion-dollar swap meet.

"We put this together the same way you make sausage," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and leader of the Senate conferees.

Using humor, histrionics and emotional pleas, each side tried to cajole the other into financing projects dear to their constituents and allies. At times, legislators refused to budge on projects critical to the other side to gain leverage on other issues.

When House conferees asked for $400,000 to fix up a municipal stadium in Allegany County -- which House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. represents -- the senators dug in their heels.

"Let's be honest, we've got a speaker from Western Maryland," pleaded Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, head of House conferees and chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

"He's the first in 100 years," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's.

"We don't want him to be the last," Mr. Rawlings added.

The Senate stood firm but later agreed to $300,000 to finance planning for Canal Place, a multimillion-dollar park project in Cumberland, where Mr. Taylor lives.

Of the $21 million allocated for local projects proposed by legislators, Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George's and Frederick counties will split about $16 million.

Why was rural Frederick County feeding at the public trough with such heavyweights as Montgomery County and Baltimore City? Two of the six conference committee members -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser and Del. James E. McClellan -- represent the Western Maryland county.

Last week, James F. Ports Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, challenged the way the House Appropriations Committee was allocating local projects, arguing that Baltimore was receiving more than its share.

Mr. Rawlings argued that some Baltimore projects benefit the entire state. He cited a $1 million grant for renovations and improvements at the National Aquarium and $500,000 for similar work at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Late Sunday, the conferees decided to spend $1 million to control erosion on Hart-Miller Island, a Baltimore County recreational spot on the Chesapeake Bay. "This was for Jim Ports," joked Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, a conferee.

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