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What would you do with a hefty state surplus?

January 08, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Maryland legislators this month open an annual session that will be dominated by an enviable question: What to do with a budget surplus that analysts say will be nearly $1 billion.

Even after subtracting money that will almost be certainly used to cover extra expenses incurred this year, such as Medicaid costs, the state will still have more than $800 million leftover, according to the state Department of Budget & Management.

That reality has Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates and state Senate talking about delivering tax cuts two years ahead of schedule.

But in these times of plenty, many voters in Washington County said Sunday they would rather see extra money spent on education.

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"I think education is important," said Nicole Hernandez, a mother of five children from Hagerstown.

Hernandez, 30, said she is happy with Maugansville Elementary School, but added, "They could always use extra supplies."

Hernandez also said she would like to see help with health care, a major cost in her family.

"And it would be great to cut taxes," she added.

But Hernandez said tax cuts are clearly a lesser priority.

She is not alone.

Education and health care were the top concerns of a handful of people interviewed in an unscientific survey Saturday.

Debbie Elliott, 47, said she, too, would like a tax cut.

"I think there's too many other things out there, though," she said.

Elliott, of Hagerstown, cited education and health care.

"There's a lot of young people working at mediocre jobs. They don't get health insurance. They need help," she said.

"I think they ought to put it to good use. They shouldn't put it to a stadium," said Hagerstown resident Robert Keedy, 77, referring to a proposal to build a new sports complex in Hagerstown. "They don't need a stadium.

Hagerstown resident John Zuvich, 35, who works on airplanes, said he would like to see the surplus used for tax breaks and other incentives to lure manufacturing firms to the state - particularly Washington County.

"I think we have a little too many service jobs," he said.

Hagerstown resident Don Grubbs, 76, said he would like to see some of surplus spent on community health clinics.

"I think most of it should be spent on the schools," he said. "Like in Williamsport, they're teaching in enlarged closets."

Williamsport resident Kim Capone, 28, said surplus funds should be used for computers and other supplies, and perhaps tutoring for families that cannot afford extra help. She also mentioned before- and after-school programs.

John Munday, 47, who teaches chemistry at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown, said he would favor using the surplus to set up a voucher program to help parents send their children to private schools.

"I'd like to see them, somehow, give the private schools a break," he said.

James Martin, 52, offered a more parochial suggestion.

"Maybe they could divvy it up for the counties and give us something for our sewer debt," he said.

But Martin, of Hagerstown, said state officials should be leery about committing cash to open-ended projects.

"You never know. Next year, they might not have a surplus," he said.

Tanya Patterson, 18, of Smithsburg, said she would like more state aid to the schools to help fund two programs the Washington County schools have cut in recent years - driver's education and elementary school instrumental music.

Patterson said she benefited from violin lessons in fourth grade, and could not afford a private driver's education course.

"Now, I don't have a driver's license," she said.

Williamsport resident Mike Hitt, 42, said he thinks the surplus should be used to speed repair and renovations projects at schools.

"All schools in Maryland need a lot of work," he said.

Some people had other suggestions.

Hagerstown resident Peter Spellar said he thinks surplus money should be plowed back into roads and bridges.

John Barnes, of Hagerstown, said the state should spend more money on activities for youth. He also suggested the state pay to expand local public transportation.

"Everywhere you go, you've got to have a vehicle. And you just can't get there on buses. The buses don't go very many places," he said.

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