This story was updated at 2 p.m. March 10, 2014.
School construction funds, state assistance and transit projects were the hot topics at the Montgomery County Executive Democratic Candidate Debate on Friday.
Current County Executive Isiah Leggett, former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Montgomery Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg squared off against each other at the forum, which was presented in part by The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. Louis Peck, a reporter for Bethesda Magazine — another presentation partner — served as the moderator.
With Montgomery County Public Schools increasing at a rate of more than 2,000 students per year, the candidates discussed the county’s recent efforts and struggles to obtain more aid for school construction funding from Annapolis.
“The reason that we are in such a box at this point is that we have been underfunded by the state for school construction funds now for year after year after year,” Andrews said. “We need to make sure that we get our fair share.”
Leggett said that while he has and will continue to fight in Annapolis for more funding for school construction, it is difficult to get the money needed for Montgomery County from the state without first solving the school condition problems in Baltimore City Public Schools.
“To assume that the state would act on Montgomery County’s needs first, and to make the argument that our schools are the same to the members of the delegation in Annapolis, they would find that laughable,” Leggett said.
Duncan responded to that assertion saying Leggett chose to put the needs of Baltimore City school children over those of Montgomery County.
“[Leggett] was there fighting for the children of Baltimore, and not fighting for the children of Montgomery County,” Duncan said. “That’s a real problem when the county executive of Montgomery County isn’t looking out for the interests of Montgomery County in Annapolis.”
While understanding why the county would receive less tax money back from the state than the city of Baltimore, Andrews said Montgomery still receives less than other nearby counties with similar schools, like Howard County. He said Montgomery County earns about 20 cents back on its tax dollars, while Howard receives 26 cents.
Talks about the progress of the Silver Spring Transit Center surfaced again, as Duncan continued to press Leggett for more answers regarding the project’s status.
“Our county leaders are frozen in indecision about what to do about the Silver Spring Transit Center, which is a debacle,” Duncan said.
The public deserves to have more information on when the center will open, how the problems will be fixed and how much they will cost, and whether the project will be safe when it does open, according to Duncan.
Leggett blasted Duncan for not building the transit center during his 12 years in office.
“He had six and a half years to build the center and never did,” Leggett said. “Now he stands before you ... after I got the money at the height of the recession, built it to 95 percent completion, had a contractor’s problem which we have addressed - and to point a finger. This was not done for seven years on his watch.”
Andrews capped off the conversation by saying that his opponents both failed to build the center.
“So I don’t know why you would elect one to finish it,” he said, drawing chuckles.