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House votes to boost school funding

April 08, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

The Maryland House of Delegates voted Friday to boost public school funding by $1.3 billion over the next six years, paid for in part by cigarette tax increase of 34 cents per pack.

Five of Washington County's six delegates voted against the plan because of the tax increase.

"If your goal is to eliminate smoking, why are you relying on the revenue in the future?" asked Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Small businesses that sell cigarettes will lose money because smokers will cross state lines to avoid paying the tax, he said.

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The delegation's other Democrat, Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, voted in favor of the tax increase. She also supported a 30 cents-per-pack tax increase in 1999.

Hecht said she wanted to boost education funding.

"I cannot go back and look at the people who sent me down here, who said education was their top priority, and tell them that I voted against $42 million for Frederick County by fiscal year 2008 and $23 million for Washington County by fiscal year 2008," Hecht said.

Statewide, public schools would get an additional $1.3 billion under the plan.

In the 2003 budget year, Washington County would get an additional $2.2 million from the state. Of that, $1.2 million would come from the cigarette tax increase and the rest would come from an increase in a grant the county receives for being among the state's poorer counties.

The first two years of the plan would be funded by the cigarette tax increase.

"I certainly feel badly that the increase in funding for education has to be tied to that type of tax," said Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

Morgan said she is happy with the plan overall because it moves toward a system where a student in any county, rich or poor, will get an equal education.

Increases beyond the first two years will have to be approved by the legislature.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he's concerned that the plan increases the state's structural spending deficit and will lead to more tax increases.

"I'm convinced it's going to take a substantial tax increase next time around to fill this deficit," Shank said.

Del. David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick, argued that it will increase political pressure to legalize slot machines.

"We're going to be back in two years saying, 'Gee, the well went dry,' " he said.

On a 91-49 vote, the House approved the measure and sent it back to the Senate for a final vote today which is expected to be a formality.

Supporters of the bill in the House successfully fought off attempts to make changes that would not be accepted in the Senate.

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