- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has told senators representing Prince George's County that he is willing to help them get more funding for their failing schools but needs their help to save his projects from budget cuts.
Meanwhile, legislative analysts have proposed more than $100 million in cuts to Mr. Glendening's environmental initiatives alone.
"The governor said, 'I'm willing to work with you, but let's make sure we've protected the environment, higher education and health care for the poor'," Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill said.
The Senate acts first on the budget this year. The governor's spending plan left it to senators to make the hard choices dictated by the state's first recession in a decade.
Legislators representing Prince George's County say their top priority is obtaining more state aid to go with an aggressive plan to overhaul their schools, where test scores remain the second worst in the state.
The lawmakers frustrated that the Prince George's County school board has resisted a state oversight panel and waged war with the county school superintendent have proposed replacing the elected board with an appointed one.
Mr. Glendening has told the senators he would like the money for the county schools to come from an increase in the state tobacco tax, which key lawmakers are considering raising by 34 cents. That would bring the per-pack tax from 66 cents to $1.
Analysts project a 34-cent increase in the tobacco levy could raise about $90 million in the first year.
A statewide commission has recommended about $130 million in extra state aid for Prince George's and other underperforming school systems. State revenues were lower than expected, and Mr. Glendening did not include that money in his budget.
Boosting the tobacco tax even higher to 50 cents per pack would raise the revenue needed to aid Prince George's ailing school system, where a high percentage of students come from lower-income, single-parent homes.
The governor is ready to sign a tobacco increase above the proposed 34 cents, Mr. Morrill said. A 50-cent increase in the tobacco tax could generate about $135 million, he said.
Because the higher tobacco tax is expected to deter smoking, lawmakers cannot look to it to generate a steady stream of added school funding.
Prince George's County Senate delegation Chairman Paul G. Pinsky, a Democrat, says he believes lawmakers will approve a tobacco tax increase of at least 34 cents.
He said he believes most Marylanders won't object to giving up the $1.50 a week that they would have received from the last phase of a state income-tax cut approved in 1998.
"I believe every Democrat in Maryland will back that," Mr. Pinsky said.
Not finishing the income-tax cut would add about $177 million to state coffers.


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