O'Malley Budget Will Not Include Compensation for Education Costs

By John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins
Published January 17th 2007 in Washington Post
Aides to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malleyconfirmed yesterday that he will not include money in the budget he presents this week for a geographic component of a school-aid formula that would send tens of millions of additional dollars to Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

O'Malley said Monday that his budget would "probably not" include the $96 million but said he remains committed to phasing in what is known as the Geographic Cost of Education Index in coming years. The initiative was part of the landmark Thornton education formula passed by legislators in 2002 and is a priority for Washington area lawmakers.

Unlike other parts of the Thornton plan, the geographic component is not mandated by law. During last year's campaign, O'Malley (D) criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for not funding it during his tenure. An additional $580 million in new education spending is mandated by Thornton for next year.

"While I'm disappointed, I'm not surprised," House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve(D-Montgomery) said of O'Malley's decision, citing the limited time the incoming administration has had to tweak a budget inherited from Ehrlich.

O'Malley had to close a budget shortfall that legislative analysts projected to be more than $400 million in the fiscal 2008 budget.

The geographic index was designed to provide additional dollars to jurisdictions where the cost of providing an education is considered more expensive. Under the current formula, Prince George's is the most expensive locale, followed by Baltimore City and Montgomery.

Of the $96 million that could be allotted next year, Prince George's would receive about $31 million, and Montgomery would get about $24 million. In two years, those amounts could grow to about $43 million and $35 million, respectively.

Barve said he is hopeful that lawmakers can persuade O'Malley to include some of that money in a supplemental budget later this legislation session. O'Malley aides said there has also been talk of introducing a bill making the funding mandatory in future years.

Spurring Teens to Vote

Hoping to increase voter participation, a freshman Democratic lawmaker from Montgomery County has introduced a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to register to vote.

The teenagers would still have to wait until they were 18 to vote, but they could register earlier under provisions of a bill from Sen. Jamin Raskin (D-Montgomery). Under current law, 17-year-olds can register if they turn 18 by the next election.

Only Hawaii allows 16-year-olds to register to vote, according to Fair Vote, which has worked with lawmakers to increase voter registration and participation.

Ryan Griffin, who works with Fair Vote and its Center for Voting and Democracy, said a similar measure passed the General Assembly in Rhode Island last year but was vetoed by the governor.

The legislation encourages voter registration drives at schools, Griffin said, calling it "a broader step toward voter registration and civic participation."

Britt to Chair Delegation

Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt(D-Prince George's) was chosen to chair the Prince George's County Senate delegation during a closed meeting where senators cast secret ballots.

The eight senators from the county were told by the staff of Senate President Thomas Mike V. Miller to meet in Miller's office after yesterday's session so a vote could be taken.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum(D-Prince George's) objected to the vote being taken in Miller's office, and the lawmakers moved to the old Senate chambers. Then Exum, who was challenging Britt for the post, said he questioned the process.

"I voiced my objection that they were doing it in secret," he said. "As long as I've been here, they've never had a secret ballot or held that meeting privately."

The lawmakers voted 6 to 2 to take the vote by secret ballot. Exum left the room. Bill Varga, an assistant attorney general, said nothing was done improperly.

Varga said House and Senate delegations are subject to the Open Meetings Act when they are considering legislative proposals but not when they are dealing with administrative or executive issues, such as choosing a chairman.

Still, the process left at least one freshman senator confused. "I asked what was the normal procedure," said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's). "They said the procedure is set on the spot, as they go along."

The senators were not given a final tally; rather, they were just told that Britt had won the position.