School funding rule change finds support Effort aimed at keeping politics out of the process

November 19, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

A key legislator and the state school superintendent are backing a change in Maryland's school funding process to reduce the chances that a governor will use school construction money in political trades.

The change, which would have to be approved by the General Assembly, would require the governor to commit a certain percentage of school construction funds by the time the legislature convenes in January.

A governor can withhold allocating as much school construction money as he likes until the Assembly adjourns in April, giving him millions of dollars in politically attractive chits to play during the 90-day legislative session.

State school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday told members of the House and Senate budget committees that she would support requiring the governor to commit 75 percent of the funds before the session begins.

"That way, it would not be a variable percentage," Grasmick said. "It would lend greater confidence to the system."

During his first two years in office, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has committed only about 55 percent of the school construction funds available by January, holding back more than $100 million to be allocated after the General Assembly ends.

Glendening has continued a practice started by his predecessor, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who also held back funds several times during his eight years in office.

Before Schaefer, however, Gov. Harry R. Hughes generally committed nearly every dollar before the legislature arrived.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he, too, would support the change.

"We have to have confidence that this process is fair and it addresses the state's needs for school construction," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "The perception is that the process is a little more political than it should be."

The idea for the rule change grew from discussions among legislators over the past few weeks.

In at least one case two years ago, Glendening used school construction funds to help secure a major legislative initiative -- state aid for two football stadiums.

To win the votes of five Montgomery County legislators on the stadium issue, Glendening increased the amount of construction money going to that county from $20 million to $36 million.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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