Investing in education Anne Arundel County: Gary bravely ignores political calendar to confront a need.

September 04, 1997

GIVE JOHN GARY credit. From a purely political perspective, the Anne Arundel County executive could have postponed any serious discussion of how to finance $70 million to $100 million in school repairs and technology upgrades until after next year's county elections.

By proposing to assemble a citizens' panel to study the question -- and in all likelihood conclude that higher taxes are necessary -- rTC Mr. Gary is not taking the politically expedient course. He will be up for re-election in 1998.

For some time now, the county Board of Education has been assembling data on the backlog of school repairs. Each year, the list grows longer of schools needing new roofs, upgrades of electrical systems, computer labs and general refurbishing.

Stuck with the reality that it will take some form of tax increase or substantial cuts in other services to deal with a bill of this magnitude, county officials have done their utmost to avoid coping with the issue.

Conventional wisdom is that wise politicians don't talk about raising taxes before elections. They remember, for example, what happened to Walter Mondale in his presidential campaign in 1984. John Gary deserves credit for acknowledging the problem and ignoring the calendar.

As Mr. Gary envisions a possible tax increase earmarked for schools, he occupies the political high ground. It is easier to oppose general government spending and largess than a tax dedicated to education, which also might not fall under the county's tax cap.

If the citizens' panel concludes that $100 million is needed to finance school repair and renovation, Mr. Gary may put the issue to voters.

It is too early to predict what form the tax increase will take. Raising the county's piggyback income tax rate from 50 percent to 60 percent would generate about $35 million annually. A penny increase in the real property tax rate raises about $1.2 million.

It would be penny-wise and pound-foolish not to invest properly in our schools. A respected school system fuels both business and residential growth, bringing in more revenue.

Baltimore city and county, which have struggled with the school issue, understand that connection all too well. So, apparently, does John Gary.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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