- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed Tuesday that the state spend $372 million on new school construction next fiscal year, unveiling a key initiative in his push to increase capital spending during the 2012 General Assembly.

The proposed funds would be the second-most allotted by the state and would be well above the state-recommended minimum of $250 million for annual school construction.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, will recommend the spending as part of his proposed budget, which he will introduce this month.

The assembly is expected to amend and pass a budget during its 90-day regular session, which begins Wednesday.

“These investments we make together are literally the building blocks of greater job creation and opportunity,” said the governor, who estimated the funds would create as many as 11,650 jobs.

Democratic leaders have said they will boost spending this year on schools, roads and other infrastructure projects, accelerating many projects originally planned for years ahead in an effort to create jobs and take advantage of low material costs and interest rates.

Officials said Tuesday they hope the projects will create business for many private-sector industries — particularly the construction industry — and provide needed improvements to aging schools.

The O’Malley administration has overseen nearly $2 billion in spending on new schools since 2007, which it says has created 2,400 direct construction jobs each year.

The state pledged a record $400 million for new schools in 2007, and allocated about $315 million in the current budget — $47.5 million of which is slated to come from last assembly session’s approved increase in the state alcohol-sales tax.

Officials have ramped up school construction after a state commission reported in 2004 that Maryland’s schools were at “crisis” level and that students in poorly maintained or overcrowded schools were more likely to struggle academically.

“There is no better time to increase support for school construction than now, when there is such a need for more and better schools and for jobs in Maryland,” said state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

While Democrats are pledging to take on new projects, they have warned that tax increases will likely be needed this session to help pay for increased infrastructure spending.

Legislators are most notably considering an increase on the state’s 23.5 cents per gallon gas tax, by as much as 15 cents a gallon over the next three years.

Other proposals on the table include a doubling or tripling of the state’s $30-a-year “flush tax” to pay for sewage treatment.

State Republicans in the Democrat-controlled assembly have decried the taxes and spending as unnecessary and are expected to fight the capital spending or call for cuts in other areas during the session.

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