ANNAPOLIS – The Prince George’s County General Assembly delegation wants state funding for a glitzy new Potomac River development and another $44 million for school construction – requests that the county is finally unified behind, said Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Democrat and chairman of the county’s delegation.
As the General Assembly opened Wednesday, Prince George’s lawmakers had one number fixed in their minds – $1 billion, the amount of the expected state surplus, much of which they hope will be spent to improve schools, transportation, and health in Prince George’s, one of Maryland’s largest counties.
This session, Prince George’s lawmakers expect to be more aggressive since they are united on their agenda, said Delegate Rushern L. Baker, a Democrat and the county’s House delegation chairman.
“Last year we were all individual,” he said. “This year we are all playing in one court.”
Tucked inside his wallet Baker had a small laminated card outlining the Prince George’s agenda.
Topping it was education. Baker said lawmakers hope to secure funding to build 13 new schools, part of a plan to end mandatory busing in Prince George’s County.
“We are going to roll up our sleeves and try to do the best we can,” Baker said. “We all have our cards, this is what we want. And we have our colleagues in the Senate asking for the same things.”
Earlier this week School Superintendent Iris T. Metts requested a $126 million increase in school funding, which would bring the system’s budget to more than $1 billion, more than any other county.
But County Executive Wayne Curry said Metts’ request is “utopian” and will be assessed in coming weeks.
“She’s evaluated operations as she sees them and therefore crafted a plan based on what it would take to have an ideal school system,” Curry said yesterday during a visit to the General Assembly.
“We will not spend money we don’t have. I think she has painted a broad, perfect picture of utopia in education.”
Behind education on Prince George’s list of objectives was the National Harbor Project, an ambitious plan to turn the shores of Potomac River into a glamorous shopping center, equipped with retail stores, entertainment shops, restaurants, hotel and conference center in Oxon Hill.
Baker said the delegation also wants to promote good corporate citizenship and reform the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
As the session opened, delegates cradled babies in their arms, bounced toddlers on their knees and held small children close to their chairs. Family and friends of senators sat in the balcony above the floor and waved as they were recognized. A festive mood prevailed among the lawmakers who fondly hugged each other in the halls and joked in their opening speeches and remarks.
“We are indeed a family,” said Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany. Taylor was re-elected speaker at the start of the session. “We work together like a family. We care about each other like a family. Sometimes we fight like a family… I have missed you.”
In his opening speech to the House, Taylor told the delegates that they must make strides in education by hiring and retaining more teachers. He also pushed universal health coverage and supported efforts to ensure that all children in Maryland have access to adequate health care.
“I hope that 100 years from now, the 21st century will be known as the century when Maryland became an improved community,” Taylor said. “This year we have the largest surplus in the history of our state. It is our duty to deliver it carefully. It is the people’s money. We must keep that always in the front of our thoughts.”
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, was re-elected president of the Senate.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening made a stop in the Statehouse where he told senators that because of the budget surplus Maryland could make incredible steps in improving health, education, environment and transportation in the state.
“We are so full of enthusiasm and excitement,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”