O'Malley vows school funding

He pledges $250 million a year for construction statewide



Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday to spend at least $250 million a year on statewide school construction if he is elected governor and said he would propose borrowing money if necessary to pay for it.

Standing next to four classroom trailers outside Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis, O'Malley said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has failed to provide a long-term commitment to school construction and renovation, resulting in difficult and sometimes dangerous learning environments for children.

O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Ehrlich in 2006, said that budget surpluses would likely be sufficient to fund the proposal over the next few years but that he would take advantage of Maryland's exemplary credit rating to issue bond debt if necessary.

"If we have a AAA bond rating and we have triple rows of trailers, what does that say about our willingness to invest in our future?" O'Malley said. "This has to be a state priority, and there have to be long-term state commitments."

A task force headed by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp concluded last year that Maryland needed to dedicate at least $250 million a year for the next eight years for school projects to eliminate a construction backlog.

Facing a budget crisis, Ehrlich cut school construction spending by more than half when he came into office, dedicating about $100 million a year for schools in the 2004 and 2005 budget years. For the current budget year, he proposed about $157 million but the legislature increased the total to $250 million.

The administration has indicated that it will provide at least $150 million in the spending proposal it submits next month, but Budget Secretary Cecilia Januszkiewicz has said that school construction is among several priorities competing for additional funding.

Ehrlich pledged this spring to dedicate an additional $100 million a year to schools if the legislature legalized slot machines.

"We welcome the mayor's thoughts on improving Maryland's education system and suggest he start in Baltimore City," said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.

O'Malley released a plan last week to use city surplus funds to provide an additional $75 million for Baltimore school construction and renovation next year.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, O'Malley's rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said yesterday that education funding is his top priority and he criticized O'Malley's record of caring for Baltimore schools.

"Mayor O'Malley is now promising to do for Maryland's schools what he has failed to do for Baltimore's schools," Duncan said in a statement.


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