New rules proposed for school aid

Glendening seeks to push renovation of older facilities

Anti-sprawl initiative

Governor also outlines `smart gun' plan in address to MACO

August 22, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening unveiled plans yesterday to rewrite the rules on education aid to promote the renovation of older schools in established neighborhoods, rather than new construction in sprawling outer suburbs.

The change in the state's formula for awarding school construction money would bring millions of dollars in extra assistance to jurisdictions with large numbers of older buildings.

Glendening's announcement came in a speech here to the Maryland Association of Counties in which he outlined aggressive plans to further his agenda of education, gun control, Smart Growth and opposition to smoking.

They include a proposal to require gun manufacturers to build high-technology child-safety devices into any new handguns sold in Maryland. Such a requirement would make Maryland the first state to adopt such a law.

Glendening had already promised to seek such "smart gun" legislation, but yesterday he made a clear commitment to make passage of the ground-breaking legislation a top legislative priority. He took his earlier pledge a step further by ruling out halfway measures, such as a requirement that handguns be sold with removeable trigger locks.

The initiative sets the stage for a nationally watched gun-safety debate in next year's Maryland General Assembly session.

Glendening also took a hard-line stand against using money from the national tobacco settlement for purposes other than fighting tobacco addiction and cancer.

"I am convinced we can make Maryland the leading anti-cancer state in the nation," said the governor, pledging to fight any effort to use the $1 billion settlement for tax cuts or road construction, as has happened in some other states. He said he hoped Maryland's stance would set an example for states that have been criticized for diverting settlement money.

MACO's summer conference is a traditional forum for governors to begin selling their top policy priorities for the next winter's legislative session.

Mike Morrill, the governor's chief spokesman, said Glendening's plan to change the formula for providing construction aid to the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City would not require full General Assembly approval. He said the changes would have to be approved by the Legislative Policy Committee and the Board of Public Works.

Smart Growth link

The proposed school construction spending shift dovetails with Glendening's Smart Growth initiative by favoring renovation of older schools in established communities.

The key change in the formula would increase the share of the costs the state will pick up when a jurisdiction renovates an old school.

For schools at least 40 years old, the state would pick up the full cost of renovation, instead of the 85 percent now called for.

For schools between 30 and 39 years old, the state would pick up 85 percent, the former maximum amount. That increase would help renovate many schools that were built during the 1960s to accommodate the baby boom generation.

Morrill said the current formula creates an incentive to build entirely new schools on newly cleared sites.

Glendening said he would also change the rules on preparation of school construction sites by having the state pick up from 5 percent to 12 percent of the costs of renovation projects. Currently, only new construction projects are eligible for aid.

The governor also said the state would begin to pay for costs that previously had been left entirely to local authorities, such as lockers, science-lab cabinets and library shelving.

Glendening did not put a price tag on the school construction changes, though they would increase the state's costs for renovation projects. Aides said the shift could probably be accommodated under Glendening's previously announced plan to spend $1 billion on school construction over four years.

The governor's school plan ties in with the Smart Growth initiative he first unveiled at the MACO gathering in 1996.

That program, designed to curb sprawling development, has brought Maryland national attention and helped elevate sprawl to a national issue.

Possible attention-getter

Glendening's gun safety initiative also has the potential to bring attention to Maryland.

"It's going to be big," said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Carroll County Republican who is a vocal critic of gun control measures. "This is a showcase issue that's going to happen right here."

Glendening said he has no interest in less sweeping legislation requiring trigger locks. What he wants, he told county officials, is a law requiring gun makers to build technology into their weapons preventing their use by a child or an unauthorized user.

"Do not listen to the gun manufacturers who say this cannot be done. The technology is being developed to make child-proof handguns that are reliable and affordable," he said. "Just like air bags and child-proof aspirin bottles, the industry will not do what is right unless we make them do what is right."

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