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House Panel Approves Baltimore School Funding

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A major funding plan to build new schools and renovate others in the city of Baltimore cleared the Maryland House Appropriations Committee on a 23-3 vote Tuesday night, sending the measure to the House of Delegates.

The measure would enable the city to issue about $1 billion in bonds to build as many as 15 new schools and renovate up to 40 others in a relatively short time. The school system has some of the oldest school infrastructure in the state.

“This is a creative solution to a problem that has existed for a very long time, and it is one that is modeled after a lot of other communities around the country where it has worked,” said Delegate John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s.

Opponents, however, questioned why the city should get so much extra help when other jurisdictions in the state also have old schools.

“This is just giving one jurisdiction a very large portion of the pie, and I think it’s detrimental, and it’s not one Maryland,” said Delegate Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County, one of the three Republicans who voted against the bill.

Delegate Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, and Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, also voted against the measure.

The bonds would be made possible by funding from the state, the city and the city school system. They would contribute $20 million a year each for 30 years.

The state money would come from the lottery. By using lottery money, the plan ensures that the debt would not count toward the state’s debt limit or credit rating.

The city money would come from a bottle tax and gambling revenue, as well as retiree health savings.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, a state agency that has been used to carry out other unique construction projects in the past, will oversee the financing. The agency also will manage construction of new and replacement schools in the plan.

The measure is the result of negotiations between staffers of House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, Senate President Thomas V. Michael Miller, D-Calvert, and Gov. Martin O’Malley — all Democrats.

Miller, speaking before the House panel’s vote on Tuesday, expressed optimism the funding plan would be approved.

“We’ve passed third base,” the Senate president said after the Senate session. “We’re heading for home.”

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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