- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Officials from the state’s five biggest counties and Baltimore have asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and legislative leaders to use part of the state surplus to boost aid for school construction.

The officials said the $400 million request would help cut into a $2 billion statewide school construction and maintenance backlog.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said the administration is in the early stages of preparing next year’s budget and that it is too soon to say how much money will be available to help local officials build schools.

But Mr. Fawell said school construction funding increased sharply last year.

“The governor firmly believes that safe and modernized schools are critical to a good education,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, proposed increasing school construction funding to $157 million from $100 million the previous year when he submitted his budget in January. The legislature increased the amount to $250 million.

The $400 million figure was mentioned last month at the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City, where county officials said an increase in school construction funds was one of their top two priorities. More state aid for building and repairing local roads was the other priority.

A 2003 report by a state task force said Maryland needed to spend $2 billion by 2013 — $250 million a year — to bring all schools up to acceptable standards.

In a letter to Mr. Ehrlich on Monday, the officials — all Democrats — said the state will need to spend $2.2 billion because of rapid increases in construction costs.

The letter was signed by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and County Executives Janet S. Owens of Anne Arundel, James Smith of Baltimore County, James Robey of Howard, Douglas M. Duncan of Montgomery and Jack B. Johnson of Prince George’s.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, also signed the letter.

Maryland recorded a surplus of about $1.2 billion when fiscal 2005 ended June 30. About half of that has been allocated.

Mr. Ehrlich is left with a projected surplus of about $600 million to use in the budget he will submit to the legislature in January.

Several suggestions have been floated for using the surplus, including pay raises for state employees, restoring cuts in the Medicaid program and reducing taxes.

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