Maryland Governor Proposes $370 Million for School Construction

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley recently proposed spending more than $370 million in the fiscal 2013 budget on public school construction in the state, the second highest single-year funding level in state history, according to state officials.

If approved, the plan will create new jobs and improve educational facilities throughout Maryland, O’Malley said. He has emphasized school construction since he first ran for governor in 2006.

“To the extent you can go deeper at a time like this, you can benefit schools and help put people to work,” said Michael Sanderson, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

O’Malley announced his proposal at Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis. He last visited the site during a campaign in late 2005, when he used the school as an example of inadequate school funding.

Since taking office in 2007, O’Malley has proposed to meet or exceed a 2004 goal of spending at least $250 million a year on school construction, most of it from borrowing.

During his first year in office, O’Malley proposed $400 million in spending, a level he has not matched since. If the most recent proposal amount is approved, he says it would bring the administration’s six-year school construction commitment to nearly $2 billion.

The proposal includes $15.3 million for a bond program that funds school improvements and $6 million for the Aging Schools Program.

In 2011, lawmakers approved $250 million for school construction. An additional $47.5 million was earmarked from an increase in the state’s sales tax on alcohol.

Thomas Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration in Prince George County, said the county’s expected share of the $350 million would put it in the range of what it is seeking from the state for improvements.

Still, some districts are underfunded. “We have a host of schools where people still don’t have gyms, where they are sitting in closets, where they don’t get fed until 2 p.m. because the cafeteria isn’t big enough,” said Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner.

Some Republican legislators believe additional borrowing to pay for construction will only harm the state by increasing pressure to raise property taxes.

“He (O’Malley) ought to get a cease-and-desist order from the taxpayers of Maryland,” said House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell.

In response to O’Donnell’s remark, Raquel Guillory, O’Malley’s spokeswoman, said, “For him, it’s not about how many jobs can be created, it’s about how many negative things can be said about proposals the governor is making.”