ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers approved $760 million in new capital debt, awarding large sums to higher education, public schools and the environment, but sending local construction projects and requests for a Morgan State library home with IOUs.
The decisions came Monday during the last moments of the annual 90-day General Assembly session as select members of the House and Senate ironed out differences between their chambers’ versions of the capital budget.
While lawmakers toiled, nearly 100 Morgan State students blasted the facade of the State House with their cries for a new library. The students could be heard for blocks in their second day of protesting.
Students complained the facilities are inadequate.
There is no lighting, said freshmen Cherae Robinson. “It looks like we’re at a candlelight dinner.”
“We have to go to other schools to get our research books,” she said, adding that the books were so old that blowing on them produced dust clouds.
While the students’ chants forced legislative negotiators to close the windows to hear properly on the warm night, the effort wasn’t rewarded with the money they desired.
House members, who removed the $3.1 million for building planning from their budget, did not want to grant money to a project that was not ready, said Delegate George Edwards, R-Garrett, a conference committee member.
They still needed do some demolition and to conduct testing, Edwards said.
Instead, lawmakers promised $52 million for planning and construction in fiscal 2004, with the school to be reimbursed for any money spent on the project before that date.
Students were not satisfied and continued their State House vigil until the Assembly adjourned.
“They want more,” said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore. “I can’t blame them.”
Not all education projects were slighted though. Overall, education construction proposals did well. Lawmakers set aside $224 million for school construction and $280 million for university construction.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s environmental priorities were also big winners.
The governor met with budget leaders more than once in his mansion to lobby for his causes.
Lawmakers, who initially slashed millions from his environmental programs, rewarded him with nearly 67 percent of his larger program requests, said the governor’s spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.
Environmental projects together, including Rural Legacy and GreenPrint, emerged with $71 million.
That money will be divvied out to counties that apply for the programs this summer, Guillory said.
Unusual for the capital budget was the absence of community building projects.
Such initiatives, ranging from a grant to Joshua Group Ministries for a Silver Spring drug and marriage-counseling center to money for Howard County Courthouse updates, were deferred until 2004.
Money is typically set aside to fund these proposals, Edwards said. But the Senate wiped them out when revenue reports showed the state was facing a $1.2 billion structural deficit, he said.