House leaders turn up heat with revised school aid plan With hours to go before panels vote, winning support is key

March 25, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

With a revised funding proposal in hand, House of Delegates leaders worked aggressively last night to secure the votes needed to pass a package of new financial aid for the Baltimore City school system in time for a crucial vote scheduled for today.

The new spending proposal -- which would funnel additional state aid to the 23 counties -- won support from Baltimore County officials.

But lawmakers from Montgomery and Prince George's counties were less enthusiastic, and it remained unclear last night whether the proposal would develop majority support in the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, which were to vote on the city schools bill today.

If the House leadership decides that approval is still in doubt, the vote could be postponed.

Key lawmakers said, however, the new proposal offered the potential of breaking the legislative logjam over the Baltimore schools deal that developed last week.

"I'm optimistic -- much more optimistic than I was over the weekend," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said last night.

The Baltimore bill calls for the city schools to receive $254 million in new aid over the next five years. At the same time, a new school board -- appointed by the governor and mayor -- would take control of the school system.

The bill developed from a court consent decree signed last fall to settle three lawsuits against the state over conditions in the schools.

Lawmakers from several areas of the state -- notably Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- have withheld support for the Baltimore aid package unless their jurisdictions also receive significant new financial aid.

Taylor was clearly demoralized at the end of last week, saying he was tired of the regional squabbling that had divided the House.

But negotiations among the various jurisdictions continued over the weekend, and Appropriations Committee head Del. Howard P. Rawlings developed the revised spending proposal for additional aid to the counties.

Rawlings' new proposal -- which calls for $26.8 million in new state education spending next year -- steers slightly more money to Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties than the House leaders' earlier plan.

A proposal floated Friday by Rawlings -- and apparently supported by state Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester -- called for $15.7 million more in education aid.

The new plan would give Baltimore County $4.5 million more next year, compared with $3.2 million in the old proposal; Montgomery would receive $4.3 million, compared with $3.3 million; and Prince George's would get $5.7 million vs. $4.9 million offered earlier.

As has been proposed all along, the Baltimore schools would get $30 million next year under the settlement.

"This is a proposal that is trying to bridge the political differences created by [the Baltimore aid bill] without bankrupting the state and, at the same time, recognizing statewide needs," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chief proponent of the city school aid and reform package.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger backed the new funding plan yesterday and was urging lawmakers from his county last night to support the city schools deal and the new aid it would mean for Baltimore County.

While Baltimore County officials were happy with the new plan, Prince George's County representatives were more cautious.

"It's getting better," said Leonard L. Lucchi, a lobbyist representing Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. "But it's just not enough."

Del. Richard A. Palumbo, a Prince George's County Democrat, said simply, "This is not going to do it."

Palumbo said the county delegation was "marching in lock step" in holding out for more money.

"It's totally unacceptable," Del. Anne Healey, another Prince George's Democrat, said of the latest proposal.

Montgomery County remained firmly opposed.

"They're moving in a better direction, but they're not there yet," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. "It is still not a fair statewide approach."

Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat and one of Taylor's lieutenants, said that with less than two weeks left in the Assembly's 90-day session, Ruppersberger and others are realizing that it would be hard to hold out for more aid.

"It's time to move, and some people are realizing it's time to move," Dewberry said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said she had not seen the latest legislative proposal and would have no comment.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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