Besides concerns over debt paying for debt, the negotiations came down to two other main objections. Critics worried about entrusting a massive construction project to a fledgling entity associated with a school system that's had fiscal-management problems.

And some lawmakers believed the plan asked too much of state taxpayers and not enough of the school system itself — which provided no money in the original plan.

Participants in the negotiations said the outlines of a deal came into focus in late February. But it took time to bring all the parties on board — especially the school system, which initially balked at diverting money from its operations to paying off bonds.

In mid-March, with three weeks to go in the 90-day legislative session, Busch and Miller unveiled a deal.

Issuance of bonds and control of new school construction would be put in the hands of the Maryland Stadium Authority — an agency with decades of experience managing large projects and bringing them in on time and within budget.

The state, city and school system would each pledge $20 million a year over 30 years to support $1 billion in bonds. The state money would come not from bonds, but from the Maryland Lottery.

The compromise moved through the legislature with amazing speed — a demonstration of the power of Busch and Miller once they're on the same page. Lawmakers from across the state praised the measure as they cast yes votes.

"This bill is very important, and we're in it together," said Del. Andrew Serafini, a Western Maryland Republican.

The investment in the city could "pay dividends for years to come," said Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat.

Opponents questioned the wisdom of pouring so much money into upgrading schools when the city and its school system suffer from so many other problems. But they were vastly outnumbered.

The House passed the bill 102-30 on March 22. A week later the Senate approved it, 40-7.

Alonso, who announced this month that he is leaving his job, said he is "absolutely" satisfied with a "fantastic" deal.

"It means hope that the schools we know our children deserve are in our future," said Rawlings-Blake.

Busch said passage of the bill ranks "right at the top" among his achievements during his 26-year career in the House.

"It's what you get into elected office to do," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com