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Local: Education

Bill would allow Baltimore to use road taxes for school construction

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Local,Maryland,Education,Transportation,Andy Brownfield

Legislation that would allow new transit authorities to raise property taxes in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs would allow Charm City to use its earnings to fund schools instead of roads.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, is sponsoring a bill to apply a 3 percent sales tax to gas sales, allow counties to raise their own gas tax up to 5 cents per gallon, and create regional transit authorities in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs that could raise property taxes to fund transportation projects.

However, a provision in the bill would allow Baltimore to use some of the money from its property tax increase for school construction. It is the only city or county given this ability under the bill.

Increasing taxes on gasoline "is a tough push for Miller, and he's going to need to find any way he can to get votes for this gas tax bill," said Nick Loffer, grassroots director for the conservative think tank Americans For Prosperity-Maryland.

"Seventy-three percent of the state doesn't want this gas tax hike, and he's going to have to try to sweeten the pot to get votes from legislators who are sitting on the fence."

The school funding would be contingent on the General Assembly approving bond sales for school construction.

Miller's office did not respond to calls or emails for comment.

Baltimore has 160 schools in bad need of repair and renovation. Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso appeared before state legislators from his city last month to lobby for $30 million a year over the next 10 years. That money would back the sale of millions in bonds to fund school construction.

But Baltimore isn't the only district in need of education dollars.

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig declined to comment on Miller's legislation. But he said school construction is an issue in many districts.

"Any money we can get for construction is helpful. We cannot build classrooms and buildings fast enough," Tofig said.

The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund has no money to start new road and transit projects and is projected to go bankrupt by 2018. That's partly due to state officials using that money for other projects.

Miller also has introduced a bill to amend Maryland's Constitution to prevent "borrowing" from the fund.

Loffer said that's ironic, considering Miller's provision allowing gas tax money to be used for Baltimore school construction.

"It's an insult to taxpayers who for years haven't had their money going toward roads."

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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