ANNAPOLIS – Legislators from heavily Republican Western Maryland are worried about getting a fair share of new education money from the Democrat-controlled General Assembly — a notion ridiculed by the House Speaker, who is from the region.
Western Maryland delegation members said Wednesday that they fear that most of the new $250 million in school construction funds promised by Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, will go to Democratic strongholds like Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Meanwhile, Western Maryland counties are among the fastest-growing in the state and therefore among the most in need for school construction funds, they said Wednesday. And the region’s schools grow more outdated every year.
“Our main concern is that we don’t get screwed,” said Delegate George C. Edwards, R- Garrett and chairman of the region’s delegation.
But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, D- Allegany, called Republican concerns ridiculous.
“We’re going to get our fair share, there’s no question in my mind,” Taylor said.
Edwards said he expects Montgomery County to be the big winner when Glendening announces his budget. But he said he hopes the majority of the money will not go to one or two counties.
Delegate Louise V. Snodgrass, R- Frederick, said she is worried the budgeting process will become overly political.
“Children aren’t born Republican or Democrat,” she said. “All children need the best education they can get…. You cannot play politics with children’s education.”
Snodgrass said she fears the process of asking for money will be demeaning for Western Maryland Republicans. Last year, she said, Board of Public Works members asked delegates whether they voted for Glendening’s budget before they heard requests for school money.
“We have to ask, plead, beg for money, and I don’t like the process,” she said.
Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Allegany, said Glendening’s history of giving the majority of education money to urban Democratic counties gives Republicans good reason to dread the process.
But some Western Maryland Republicans said they are at least willing to wait and see what the governor does.
“I trust in the governor, and I hope I’m not being naive,” said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Frederick.
Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, said he has always received fair treatment from Glendening and expects Western Maryland to get an adequate share of the new education money. The greater problem, he said, is that the region’s county commissioners have so far been unable to produce the resources to match state funds.
Concerned delegates said they want improvements to existing schools more than new schools, particularly in Garrett and Allegany counties, where technology is outdated and space is limited.
Edwards pointed to the absence of auxiliary gyms at many schools as one example of the problem. Students do not have enough space for sports, and the only way to get more money for gym space is to build a new school, Edwards said.
If new schools are built, Republicans said, they will likely be in Frederick County, the fastest growing county in the state. But even Elliott, who represents Frederick County, said he would rather see improvements to existing schools and programs.