- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

ANNAPOLIS More than 200 opponents of a plan to uproot 900 households and 40 businesses in the Middle River community jammed a committee room Thursday to tell legislators it is unjust to push them out to make way for upscale homes and commerce.

"They want my home, our family business. I've worked over 30 years for that community, and now they tell me I'm not wanted there," Freda Wallace told the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

At issue is a bill that would allow Baltimore County officials to condemn specific properties in and near Middle River even if they are not deteriorating if county officials decide they are in need of development or redevelopment for the "public benefit."

"It's not legal," attorney Dana Berliner of the District of Columbia-based Institute for Justice told the committee, adding that the measure departs from every other bill the state has passed allowing a jurisdiction to condemn and take property.

Baltimore County officials argue they must serve the larger interest of the entire county, which they say they do best if they improve its tax base by redirecting valuable waterfront property to more lucrative uses than the mostly blue-collar shops and residents there now.

Delegate Diane DeCarlo, Baltimore County Democrat, asked the bill's sponsor, Sen. Michael Collins, Baltimore County Democrat, if he was pressuring her colleagues on the committee to vote for the bill.

Sen. Collins' answer suggested that he was not.

While the administration of Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, was denying that approving the measure could make way for similar moves throughout the state, some legislators said Mr. Ruppersberger's lobbying was already hitting them at home.

But Delegate B. Daniel Riley, a Harford County Democrat who opposes the bill, suggested Mr. Collins retaliated by helping to kill state funding for a Police Athletic League project in his district.

"No PAL center project has ever been defeated, and the county even has a $1 million match," Mr. Riley said.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, even weighed in on the issue, asking city delegates to support Mr. Ruppersberger in the matter, "Although there may be provisions in the legislation … that [he] would not want for Baltimore city … ."

* * *

Opponents of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to provide $6 million in state funds to buy textbooks for parochial and private schools lost a decisive and probably final battle Thursday to strip the money from the budget.

The decision came on a 72-68 roll call after a long and sometimes emotional debate over whether the state should depart from its historic tradition of not giving aid to private schools.

Several more steps are required in the Senate and House of Delegates before lawmakers complete work on the state budget. But the money for books survived an earlier vote in the Senate on a 27-19 roll call, and there does not appear opponents will have another shot at eliminating the funding.

Public and private schools will be eligible to get as much as $90 for each student for textbooks if 20 percent or more of their students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches under federal food programs. Otherwise, they will get a maximum of $60 per student.

Supporters of the governor's plan argued that the program is just for one year and said it is a minimal amount of money to help parents who send their children to private or parochial schools.

"We're not even throwing them a bone," said Delegate Joseph Vallario, Prince George's Democrat. "What it is saying is, 'Thank you for educating our children.' "

Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, said since the money is coming from tobacco settlement funds, the state is not diverting any money from public schools.

But Delegate Frank Turner, Howard Democrat, held up outdated textbooks he borrowed from Annapolis Elementary School and said the state should be taking care of its public schools before handing out money to private schools.

Delegate Michael Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, also urged the House to reject private-school funding.

He said Annapolis, which is in his district, has a greater concentration of public housing than any other place in Maryland. While 10 of 11 public schools in the Annapolis area have a majority of black students, minority enrollment in private and parochial schools ranges from 3 percent to 5 percent.

"To support this funding just creates a greater divide between those who have and those who have not," Mr. Busch said.

Delegate Joanne Benson, Prince George's Democrat, challenged Mr. Rawlings' contention that the funding is only a one-year program.

"This year, $6 million; next year, probably more, and from what I understand, this will be a 10-year program," she said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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