Road money to build schools? Howard County: Del. Bobo's proposal to expand use of excise tax revenue merits further discussion.

December 18, 1998

A BILL proposed by Del. Elizabeth Bobo that could divert money from road construction to school construction has not been embraced by other members of the Howard County legislative delegation, but it merits consideration.

The Bobo bill would amend 1992 legislation that placed an excise tax on certain county construction projects and set aside the revenue for road improvements.

Ms. Bobo believes a portion of the excise tax revenue ought to be available for school construction, which also is often needed to accommodate development. But developers fear they would have to fight formidable school proponents for money they need to build roads to serve new subdivisions and commercial areas.

Ms. Bobo, a former Howard County executive, proposed similar legislation last year, but it failed. That version would have required a 50/50 split of the excise tax revenue between schools and roads. The new legislation would make any contribution to the schools optional.

The bill would require the County Council to decide prior to the adoption of the annual budget what percentage of the excise tax, if any, should go to schools. The tax has generated $26 million since it was imposed six years ago and is expected to bring in $6 million a year through 2004.

Giving the council more flexibility about whether to use excise tax money for school construction improves the bill. The option would be exercised. Case in point: Protests last year led the council to raise the education budget beyond the executive's recommendation.

Developers' fears that the council won't be able to resist pressure to tap the excise tax for schools are justified. But perhaps those funds should be tapped when the council determines road construction wouldn't be hampered and the result would also serve the needs of development. Ms. Bobo's bill deserves a closer look.

Pub date 12/18/98

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