Emergency Money Eyed by Democrats; Funding Plan Could Thwart Slots Initiative
Byline: Robert Redding Jr., THE WASHINGTON TIMES
ANNAPOLIS - House Democrats yesterday proposed tapping the state's rainy day fund to pay for $100 million in school construction, a move aimed in part at thwarting Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s slot-machine gambling plan for the third consecutive year.
In addition, Democrats called for repealing a $166 million property tax increase that Mr. Ehrlich imposed in 2003. The property tax repeal also would be covered with money from the state's nearly $800 million rainy day fund.
"We're responding to what we believe Marylanders want most," House Speaker Michael E. Busch, flanked by other House Democrats and county leaders, said during a State House press conference.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, noted that he already has set aside $157.4 million for school construction in the state's $947.5 million capital construction budget. He also said the state Board of Public Works, which he heads, will work to repeal part of the tax increase "within the next month or two."
"I don't think it's a very good policy," he said of the House proposal. "I don't think it will survive the Senate."
Mr. Ehrlich said Mr. Busch is doing "anything to take attention off slots." The governor's slots bill, which calls for using gambling revenue for education, has died in the House for the past two years.
"If we pass slots tomorrow, you wouldn't have any funding for a couple of years," Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said during yesterday's press conference.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat and supporter of slots, said the state must emerge from the current recession before taxes can be cut.
"The governor was right to increase property taxes two years ago," said Mr. Miller, who did not attend the House Democrats' press conference. "We are going to find a way for school construction funding."
According to a state task force, Maryland schools are deteriorating and new schools are needed. The task force estimated that it would cost $3.85 billion to bring every school up to minimum health and safety standards.
Calls for increasing school construction funding and cutting taxes put Democrats in the spotlight with two of Mr. Ehrlich's key issues. He had promised to add another $100 million for school construction if his slots bill is passed this year. …