ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County officials hurried Tuesday to put a happy face on the school construction proposal they had repudiated less than a week earlier.
The deal, approved Monday in the waning hours of the legislative session, calls on the state to pay $140 million over four years toward new schools in the county. But the state will not pick up additional costs for architects, engineering and land acquisition, as the county had demanded.
County Executive Wayne Curry — who had slammed legislators last week when they refused to pick up the additional costs — had newfound enthusiasm for the deal Tuesday.
“I hope that instead of addressing my style, we’ll address the scoreboard and cheer this wonderful moment,” he said.
County lawmakers said that scoreboard included an extra $18 million to help at-risk students, a Medicaid expansion for poor children and tax relief for the poor as major developments of the session.
“This is probably the best year Prince George’s County has had in the 20 years I’ve been down here,” said Sen. Leo Green, D- Prince George’s.
He was particularly pleased with the school construction money, earmarked to build schools that will help the county get out of court-ordered busing.
“We’re going to be able to do away with busing, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime, and we’re going to be able to build schools in the neighborhoods,” Green said.
But some legislators criticized a clause in the school- funding bill that would withdraw the state funds if any of the three parties in the busing lawsuit — the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the county school board and the county government — pull out of the proposed settlement.
“That’s like taking a $35 million gun and sticking it to the back of the three members (in the settlement),” said Del. James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s.
Prince George’s Del. Michael Crumlin renounced his Democratic party membership after the legislature refused to pick up the extra school construction costs and cast the lone dissenting vote against the plan.
“Sometimes a protest vote is your only choice,” said Crumlin, who has registered as an independent. “This legislature didn’t dedicate itself to ending court ordered busing.”
Though the school construction bill was the crown jewel in their agenda, county lawmakers also heralded three bills that they said will help county residents:
* The county got the lion’s share — $18 million of a $67 million state allocation — to fund school programs for at-risk children.
* An expansion of Medicaid to cover children and pregnant woman who did not previously qualify for Medicaid was hailed by Green as “preventative medicine.”
* A planned 2 percent cut in the state income tax was increased to 5 percent, while the earned-income tax credit aimed at the working poor was expanded.
“It’s going to help some of the people of modest and poor incomes and we have people like that in the county,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.
Pinsky also hailed the passage of a needle-exchange program, which will let intravenous drug users trade in used hypodermic needles for clean ones. Participants in the program will be required to participate in treatment programs.
“It’s another option to reduce the spread of AIDS and also to get people off of drug addictions,” he said.
Other legislators heralded a pair of bills aimed at offsetting the costs of new construction in the county: One will assess a surcharge of up to $2,500 on each new house to pay for future school construction, another will require developers to pay for sewer and water pipeline construction.