State finds $70 million in new funds Unexpected revenue seen as hope for Baltimore school plan

Governor is optimistic

Providing dollars for undecided counties may move stalled bill

March 14, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly got some welcome news yesterday in the form of $70 million in unanticipated revenue, money that might help dislodge the stalled proposal to pump new aid into the Baltimore school system.

While the newfound revenue represents a tiny part of the state's $15 billion budget, the money could help provide important bargaining chips as the governor cuts deals with legislators to support the Baltimore schools plan, as well as his other legislative initiatives.

The governor warned, however, that lawmakers and local officials must keep in mind the state's overall financial picture as they make their demands.

"We are trying to be as helpful as we can," Glendening said. "But I would hope people would be fiscally responsible."

Thanks mainly to unexpectedly larger income tax collections, state officials yesterday increased the official estimate of revenue for the current year by $50 million and for the coming budget year by $20 million.

The governor is being pressured by legislators and local officials from several counties to send more state funds their way. Without such financial help, lawmakers from those jurisdictions -- particularly Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- are threatening to vote against the Baltimore schools proposal.

One of the leaders of that effort agreed that the rosier revenue figures will help move the bargaining process along.

"It obviously makes it easier to provide the kind of education aid we need for the counties to be able to support the city schools bill," said Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's Democrat.

Glendening is weighing a proposal by House leaders to offer nearly $38 million in new spending for the counties -- including, for example, new school construction money for Montgomery County -- that would be included in a supplemental budget.

Major F. Riddick, Glendening's chief of staff, said the administration had counted on some increase in revenues to help with the bargaining over the schools deal. But, Riddick added, the money the governor includes in a supplemental budget will not be as much as some local officials are hoping for -- an additional $60 million to $100 million statewide.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat and strong supporter of the city aid package, said the new revenue figures will help focus the negotiations but said legislators need to consider the core issue -- the problems in the Baltimore school system.

"Other counties say they have needs and wants," Blount said. "Of course, nobody has the needs and wants that Baltimore City has. It would be a tragedy if this bill failed."

The Baltimore education plan would send $254 million in additional state aid to the city schools over the next five years.

The proposal, which is intended to settle three lawsuits over conditions in the schools, would also establish a new school board whose members would be appointed jointly by the governor and mayor of Baltimore. The measure would hand day-to-day control of the system to a new chief executive officer.

The extra money for the school system is included in the $15 billion state budget approved yesterday by the House of Delegates and sent to the Senate. However, the Assembly must pass legislation that would enact the management changes.

With about three weeks left in the 90-day session, that bill has not been voted on by any of the four committees considering it.

A joint House committee work group that has been considering the schools bill is expected to mark up the measure today and vote on it tomorrow or early next week.

With time beginning to run out in the legislative session, a key House leader from Baltimore asked executives from the state's six largest counties this week to express their support publicly for the schools bill.

"I recognize that as county executive your initial responsibility is to advocate for your jurisdiction," Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, wrote in a letter to each of the executives. "However, I would like to call on your instincts as a state political leader now and request that you support" the bill.

Glendening said yesterday that he is not concerned whether local officials publicly endorse the Baltimore schools deal.

"I honestly don't care who is up front [endorsing the bill], as long as we have the votes and the money to make this work," the governor said.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.