A funny thing happened on the way to new school construction money for Montgomery County: reality.
Midway through Maryland’s 90-day legislative session, county lawmakers seem to hold little hope of their top legislative priority passing the General Assembly and establishing a steady, predictable stream of state money to leverage borrowing for school construction.
“We’re not necessarily expecting it to pass,” Del. Anne R. Kaiser said.
Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville, chairwoman of Montgomery’s delegation, proposed a bill to establish the Supplemental Public School Construction Matching Fund Program. Under the bill, counties with a triple-A bond rating and school systems with at least 100,000 students would be eligible for up to $20 million each year to fund a portion of school construction projects or project debt. Her House bill has 62 sponsors; a Senate version has 19.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said in an interview that it looks like Montgomery will not get the school construction money it seeks, but that it should.
“You know how Annapolis works,”said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
“It’s more election-year politics than anything,” Leggett said. “I think it’s an election year and people are a bit skeptical about what obligations you put in right before an election.”
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington said proponents of the program face an uphill battle for passage, but nothing has been decided.
When it comes to Annapolis, Kaiser said, few things get done in one year. Lawmakers established a similar school construction funding mechanism for Baltimore city last session — a program that took a few years to pass, she said.
“We are realistic in the ways of the world,” she said. “Sometimes you have to take more than a year to make your case on the need for a bill.”
Leggett said the county began pushing for more school construction dollars in 2010 and was able to get some additional state money through the conventional budget process.
But to keep pace with growing enrollment — about 2,000 new students each year for Montgomery County Public Schools — even more money is needed.
To meet proposed construction timelines, Leggett said, Montgomery needs a program in place either this year or next.
“We are going to continue to push forward and hope we can get something,” he said.
In January, Leggett joined County Executives Rushern L. Baker III (D) of Prince George’s and Kevin B. Kamenetz (D) of Baltimore to collectively pitch the need for more money across the state to build and renovate schools.
Kaiser’s bill is scheduled for a hearing March 6. The Senate version is scheduled for a hearing March 12.