Senate passes boost in education spending

Officials urge House to OK Thornton plan

April 04, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate approved a $1.3 billion plan to boost spending on schools yesterday -- funded in part by a cigarette tax increase -- after a threatened filibuster failed to materialize.

The legislation would write into law most of the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, which urged the state to spend more on schools and to target the money to the poorest districts.

The bill goes to the House, where it faces opposition from delegates who say it's too expensive.

But supporters of the Senate plan say they're hopeful they can convince the House that passage is crucial to the future of Maryland's public schools.

"I think the House needs a day to digest what we've done because I don't think they thought we could do it," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

"I hope they realize that if they support this, we will be able to put in place changes to the formula and policy that will help education in this state for a long time," she said.

The Senate approved the measure 30-17, with 10 Republicans and seven Democrats voting against it. Three Republicans backed the bill.

For next year, public schools would get about $90 million more in funding, with most of the money coming from raising the cigarette tax by 34 cents to $1 per pack. Within the next six years, state spending on public schools would increase by $1.3 billion annually.

Opponents warn that the bill would require the state to find additional sources of revenue for the future.

"I support public schools, but the cost of this thing is outrageous," said Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a St. Mary's County Democrat. "We're passing something that means we're going to have to do one of two things next year -- increase taxes or pass slots."

The House is moving its own education spending plan.

It, too, would increase the cigarette tax and would direct another $92 million to public schools for each of the next two years, but its measure does not address spending after that.

House leaders say they don't want to pass long-term school funding proposals until next year, after they've had time figure out how to pay for them.

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