General Assembly's start-up Legislative agendas: Bills, strategies with imput on region begin to take shape.

January 19, 1998

ALTHOUGH THE Larry Young debate has blotted out most light filtering from the Maryland General Assembly as it begins in its 90-day session in Annapolis, behind the scenes bills and budgets are starting to form. Some ideas are intriguing, some deserve a quick death, others will plant a seed to become law a year or more from now.

The following is a summary of agendas for legislative delegations in the Baltimore area -- the good, the bad and the unlikely:

City that sleeps?

THANKS TO Mr. Young's expulsion from the Senate last week, Baltimore City's delegation is trying to avoid anything controversial that might cast it in a bad light.

There are no big-ticket items, which is wise after the city gained huge allocations in 1993 to expand the Convention Center, in 1996 for a football stadium and last year to reform city schools.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, head of the House Appropriations Committee, has a bill that would allow slot-machine gambling that would aid Pimlico and some other locations in Maryland. But the legislation looks dead on arrival. Even Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who supports slot machine expansion, said he wouldn't bother this year: There's little chance of success in an election year.

Despite the lack of a cause celebre, city legislators have important work ahead of them. They should support state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's formula to send more money to poverty-stricken schools throughout Maryland, but they should also speak out about the disparate treatment afforded Baltimore City in the plan.

The city's normal education allocation, under a formula, is essentially halved because of the extra $50 million it gets this year from the aid-reform package of 1997. When the five-year reform plan expires, though, city schools could be hurt if treated differently than other poor schools that benefit from this year's Grasmick "targeted-impact" formula.

The legislative delegation also must unite in seeking money for a community court to expedite misdemeanor cases. A $1.9 million appropriation in the governor's budget would provide the judges, public defenders and staff needed to make the court a reality. By expediting misdemeanor cases, a community court can help provide relief for the overburdened Central Booking and Intake Center. Baltimore can borrow a page from New York, whose crackdown on nuisance crimes has helped speed the Big Apple's revival.

Aging schools

SINCE HIS election in 1994, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has chosen his priorities well and been single-minded in pursuing them. His focus on schools, public safety, economic development and breathing new life into the county's older neighborhoods is mirrored in his agenda for the current session.

He wants money for Police Athletic League centers in Woodmoor and Golden Ring, to convert Catonsville's old Bloomsbury school to a community center, to spruce up Liberty and Reisterstown roads and Loch Raven Boulevard. He seeks authority for police to arrest fugitive criminals in other jurisdictions. All are worthy measures.

The school requests are the most important part of the package. The condition of the county's school buildings, virtually all of which are at least 30 years old, requires major investment, as in many jurisdictions. Roofs need replacing, classrooms need wiring for computers, heating and electrical systems need fixing. This year's $32 million capital request is ambitious, but the county likely will wind up with a good portion of that.

It is also likely that the schools will reap a windfall in operating money. The county is guaranteed $30 million in extra aid through the next four years as part of the city schools settlement package. On top of that, it will receive $40 million during the same period as part of a proposed statewide program to funnel (( extra aid for education to needy areas.

Opportunity lost?

THE LEGISLATIVE package in Anne Arundel County is notable for what's missing. Even though the county has a backlog of up to $78 million in school repair and renovation

requests, the county government's legislative agenda includes only one -- fixing up Brooklyn Park Middle.

The county may be missing an unprecedented opportunity. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has indicated the state's surplus allows him to propose well in excess of $200 million for school construction. In addition, repair and renovation of existing schools suits his "smart growth" strategy to bolster established communities.

Anne Arundel received a relative pittance in school construction aid last year, partly because its neighbors did more to support the Baltimore school reform package, but also because the county delegation remains torn by partisanship. If County Executive John G. Gary put his considerable power into getting delegates into line, Anne Arundel's share of school construction money might be commensurate with its needs.

Emissions again

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