School money approved

April 21, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County got twice as much state school construction money yesterday -- nearly $12 million -- than it did last year, but county legislators are blaming Del. Virginia Thomas for sacrificing an additional $2 million to election-year grandstanding.

The Maryland Board of Public Works yesterday decided to give the county $7.2 million to add to the $4.7 million it approved in January.

That was somewhat less than the nearly $14 million that was recommended by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings.

Delegate Thomas, an East Columbia Democrat, took credit for legislative "approval" of Howard County's funding in a press release on April 11, the last day of the 1994 legislative session.

The premature announcement, combined with a letter saying the county didn't need all of the money it requested for a new Eastern High School, may have "politicized" and "poisoned" the school construction funding process, in the view of Ms. Thomas' fellow county lawmakers.

Despite the political clash, all sides agreed that the public works board, which includes the governor, the state comptroller and state treasurer, was much kinder to Howard County than it has been in the past.

"I'm pleased that we got the $7.2 million," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "I think the total of $11.9 million is more than we've received for a number of years."

"That is outstanding when you look at past years," said Sidney L. Cousin, associate school superintendent for finance and operations. He said the $11.9 million total is the highest the state has given to the county since he began working for the school system in 1986.

Even so, said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, chairman of the mostly Republican legislative delegation, the county could have had it all.

"The numbers are good, but they're not as good as we had hoped for, and worked for," Mr. Flanagan said. "This an area where you can't go off half-cocked and try to promote yourself at everyone else's expense."

Mr. Flanagan's main complaint was a letter Ms. Thomas sent to the governor asking for $480,000 for a heating and air conditioning project to serve Owen Brown Middle School and Dasher Green Elementary School in her district.

The money, she wrote, could come out of the $8,684,000 the county sought for the Eastern High School project.

"The Eastern High School would not be hurt by this shift in funds because the county already has these monies in the budget," she wrote.

The governor, and the board, agreed and approved the shift of money to pay for the air conditioning projects, but budgeted only $5 million for the Eastern High School, deferring the remainder until next year.

"I succeeded. They failed. The Republicans failed, so what should I say?" Ms. Thomas said, blaming the lack of funding for such projects as the rebuilding of Wilde Lake High School on Republicans' lack of either lobbying or support.

Ms. Thomas, one of three Democrats in the county's nine-member General Assembly delegation, also blamed a Republican -- Mr. Flanagan -- for her premature announcement and claim of credit. While the legislature sets the amount to be spent on projects statewide, the public works board decides where it will be spent.

"I was wrong," Ms. Thomas said yesterday of her announcement, blaming the mistake on a misleading list of school construction projects given to her by Mr. Flanagan.

"What Flanagan was showing us wasn't official, it was never given to the governor. That's what I found out later," Ms. Thomas said.

Mr. Flanagan, however, said that other delegation members knew quite well what the list was: a recommendation from Delegate Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

In it, Mr. Rawlings asked House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. to forward the list to the governor and the other two members of the public works board, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer.

"If Del. Thomas didn't understand the system, she was the only one in the delegation who didn't," Mr. Flanagan said.

Even Mr. Ecker, also a Republican, thought there might have been a connection between Ms. Thomas' penmanship and the "lost" money.

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