Power play on school aid P.G., Montgomery: Budget-busting plan enriches two counties at taxpayers' expense.

March 27, 1997

WHAT LEADERS in Montgomery and Prince George's County want to achieve in Annapolis amounts to a blatant power grab that would cost taxpayers dearly. The two Washington-area subdivisions are trying to strong-arm the General Assembly and governor into approving $333 million in extra school aid. Guess who gets the lion's share of the goodies?

Fortunately, their chances of succeeding are diminishing. While P.G. executive Wayne Curry and Montgomery executive Douglas Duncan and their House delegations have lined up in near-unity at the taxpayers' feeding trough, the state Senate has resisted -- and for good reason. In voting against this outrageous plan, Sen. Gloria Lawlah of P.G. pointedly asked, "Where is the revenue stream for this?"

Answer: There isn't any. At least not one that stands a chance of gaining General Assembly approval. As Sen. Barbara Hoffman of Baltimore put it, the Washington suburban faction is engaging in "wishful thinking."

At this late stage in the budget process, there are two ways to pay for such a money-grab: raise the tobacco tax or eliminate plans to lower the income-tax rate. Neither is likely to happen. Senate Mike Miller won't let a tobacco levy pass his chamber, and House leaders insist on cutting the income tax.

In their crass scheming, Montgomery and P.G. delegates are holding the Baltimore City school-aid package hostage. They would rather kill the state's court-approved bailout plan than reduce their rich demands. More responsible leaders from the Washington area, such as Mr. Miller, Ms. Lawlah and House Majority Leader John Hurson, recognize this is a morally and fiscally bankrupt scheme.

Baltimore's failing schools demand attention. Other money cries pale in comparison. Last year, 13 percent of city school kids passed the state academic performance tests versus 30 percent in P.G. and 51 percent in Montgomery. Nearly one-third of city schools are subject to state takeover for poor performance. The city's dropout rate is four times the state average.

A compromise counties aid plan calling for an extra $134 million has been put forth. Beyond that figure, the plan becomes a budget-buster. Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger agrees, and has signed on to the deal. Other Baltimore-area officials should do so, too. Otherwise, the P.G-Montgomery cabal-makers may succeed in killing the city bailout plan -- and the compromise counties aid plan, too. That would be a lose-lose scenario any smart politician would want to avoid.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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