Democrats criticize GOP on school budget issue Proposal to use impact fees to raise more money draws little support

October 29, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Howard County executive candidate James N. Robey and other local Democratic candidates gathered yesterday to say their party has been better for public education than the GOP -- an attempt to remind voters one more time of this year's bitter schools budget battle between Republicans and educators.

There were no concrete proposals, however, beyond County Council candidate Guy Guzzone's suggestion that residential developers pay an impact fee to help fund new schools.

"On a gut level, I believe that it's the only way that we can pay for the things that we really care about," said Guzzone, who is running against Republican Wanda Hurt in District 3 in southeastern Howard.

The idea met with a lukewarm response from Guzzone's fellow Democrats.

Only one of the three other council candidates present, George L. Layman of Ellicott City in District 1, embraced the proposal. Robey distanced himself from the idea.

"I want to hear more about it, but I'm a long way from supporting it," Robey said after the news conference.

Hurt rejected the idea outright, calling it a "tax" on developers that would drive up new-home prices.

"You know who's going to pay for it, don't you? The citizens," said Hurt, who during her campaign has not proposed specifics on how to manage growth "I don't think it's a good idea at all."

Guzzone said the impact fees would free up more county money to improve existing communities, including renovating older schools.

The Democrats held their joint news conference at Ellicott Mills Middle School, one of the county's oldest schools and one in need of renovations. Robey's GOP opponent, Dennis R. Schrader, stood at the same site earlier this month to say the school should have been renovated years ago, but that it has been difficult to maintain older facilities while new schools must be built to accommodate residential growth.

Robey made much the same point yesterday.

"All of our schools are not created equal," he said, referring to schools that are lagging behind others in textbooks, technology and physical condition. "There is a commitment here from all of us [Democrats] to continue providing the quality of education that everyone in Howard County expects."

Robey said Republicans lack that commitment. He pointed to this year's budget battle, during which Republicans passed a small income tax cut while giving schools millions of dollars less than educators had requested -- though still an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

Schrader called the final schools budget a "very fair compromise" and criticized Robey for saying he would be willing to consider rescinding this year's tax cut, if necessary, to fund education adequately.

"It's the typical Democratic response," Schrader said yesterday. "Raise taxes instead of cutting costs."

Robey countered that after years of lean county budgets under GOP Executive Charles I. Ecker, it might be difficult to cut much more if the economy turns sour.

"I would like to know what he's going to sacrifice," Robey said. "Will it be our schools? Will he lay police officers off? Firefighters?"

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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