Carroll County Times

Senate strips funding for fields at Annapolis, South River

Lawmakers have stripped two grants that would have been used to install turf athletic fields at Annapolis and South River high schools.

Two $700,000 grants were included in Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed fiscal 2015 capital budget for the improvements to the schools' athletic facilities. But the Senate on Tuesday adopted amendments to the capital budget bill, Senate Bill 171, including two that deleted the grants.

Sen. Ed DeGrange, D-Glen Burnie, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's capital budget subcommittee, said the two grants were removed because funding for turf fields typically isn't included in the capital budget. DeGrange said the money should have been asked for in bond bills.

But it's too late to propose a bond bill. The only way the two Anne Arundel County high schools can get the money is if the House restores the grants and a conference committee agrees to include the money in the capital budget's final draft.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, who represents a district that includes Annapolis High, promised the House would restore the funds. Busch blamed DeGrange and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. for the Senate's move to deny the grants. He said the move was "disrespectful" to Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis.

Astle, who is running for re-election in a redrawn District 30 that includes both Annapolis and South River high schools, said he was hopeful it would be restored. DeGrange's subcommittee isn't a dictatorship, Astle said. But he would have hoped "the leadership could help nudge some things in the right direction."

Busch was more direct.

"Every other senator over there has gotten his capital project, and for some reason Sen. DeGrange doesn't think that Sen. Astle is deserving of the same type of projects he puts into the budget," Busch said. "I am not going to let my senator be disrespected by the Senate of Maryland."

DeGrange could not be reached to respond to Busch or Astle's comments.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's original fiscal 2015 capital budget proposal included $20.2 mllion for 13 Anne Arundel County schools, including two separate $700,000 grants for South River and Annapolis high schools for improvements to athletics facilities.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education supported SB171 at a hearing on March 10, citing the two grants prominently in its reasoning. The county said county and state tournaments could be played on the new fields.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for AACPS, said the Senate's decision to give preliminary approval to a capital budget without the grants was disheartening.

"These projects benefit not only the students at these two schools, but the communities they serve and the county as a whole," Mosier said.

While DeGrange said money for the projects should have been requested with bond bills, the General Assembly last year approved $2.5 million for athletic facilities at Annapolis High School. That was after O'Malley's initial capital budget proposal last year for fiscal 2014 included just $750,000 for the high school's facilities improvements.

O'Malley's office declined to comment on the Senate's decision to strip the $700,000 grants proposed by the governor in this year's capital budget proposal.

Meanwhile, the only other lawmaker in the General Assembly representing Annapolis High School, outside of Astle and Busch, hesitated to participate in the discussion.

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, said he believes that if Busch wants the money in the capital budget, he'll get the money back.

"H.L. Mencken said that 'politicians keep people alarmed by menacing them with an endless series of imaginary crises, so that they can heroically resolve them," McMillan said, quoting the late Baltimore columnist and social commentator. "This is just part of the show."