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Busch announces plan to fund school projects

January 15, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

House Speaker Michael E. Busch on Wednesday announced a plan to help public schools with a backlog of construction projects.

Busch, D-Anne Arundel, proposed raising the money by closing a loophole in state law that exempts some corporate real estate transactions from being subject to transfer taxes.

The move is expected to generate $39.6 million a year for school construction statewide, according to the bill.

In addition, the state would pay 90 percent of the cost of building schools in economically distressed counties, including Allegany County. The state currently pays 65 percent.

As a result of the loophole, companies can avoid the tax by buying and selling shell companies that own real estate rather than purchasing the land directly.

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Washington County Republican delegates said they have not made up their minds about closing the transfer tax loophole.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said it's a great idea to boost school construction.

"We can't just sit on the sidelines. Every county will benefit, including Washington County," he said.

The Washington County Board of Education has asked for help catching up on $80 million of needed school construction and repair projects. The backlog grows by $2.3 million a year with inflation, Chief Financial Officer William Blum has said.

In the fall, the Washington County Commissioners rejected Blum's idea to borrow an extra $25 million for schools.

"This is another approach at the state level to help our local school board," Donoghue said.

In addition to the school construction bill, Busch is proposing four other pieces of legislation this session. His bills would:

- Boost higher education funding. Busch did not outline a plan to pay for the increase.

- Authorize the Maryland Attorney General to enforce the federal Do-Not-Call legislation. If the national list is scrapped, the state would adopt its own Do-Not-Call list to prevent unwanted telephone solicitations.

- Establish a temporary loan program for victims of Hurricane Isabel in Baltimore County, northern Anne Arundel County, Dorchester County and Southern Maryland.

- Require electricity suppliers in the state to use renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, water and solar power.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Busch has some laudable goals, but questioned how the state can afford them with budget deficits looming.

"I'd like to see how he intends to pay for all these programs. He's ignoring the fact that we're facing a budget deficit," Shank said.

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