Spend, spend, spend. That's what state legislators want to do with a supposed pot of gold held by the Maryland Stadium Authority in case a $160 million football coliseum is built. Every lawmaker, it seems, wants to tap into that mythical surplus for some election-year purpose.
The latest effort is a bill co-sponsored by 50 members of the House to shift $20 million a year from lottery money now going to the stadium authority and use it for school construction. That's a noble goal, but this diversion plan is way off-base.
To begin with, the plan violates the legislature's self-imposed spending cap. Such a monetary diversion could seriously threaten revenue bonds already issued to pay for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It also is a dedication of revenues that flies in the face of legislative efforts to avoid these kinds of entitlement programs.
But the worst aspect of this proposal is that lawmakers are trying to pull a fast one on the voting public: the plan won't solve Maryland's school construction crunch. It won't even come close. It's more of an election-year gimmick.
Some lawmakers, especially from the Washington suburbs, simply want more school money -- especially if Baltimore can be "punished" in the bargain. There's a regional divisiveness creeping into the State House that is potentially devastating: Let's take money from "them" and give it to "us."
Legislative leaders ought to stick by their support for Gov. William Donald Schaefer's efforts to land a National Football League team for Baltimore. The matter of diverting money from the stadium authority should be put on hold until next year.
But the matter of school construction money should not be postponed. There is, indeed, an urgent need for a vastly larger sum to deal with a surge in school-age kids. A "baby boomlet" is causing overcrowding in elementary schools, especially in the outer suburbs. By the end of the decade, that will translate into overcrowded middle schools and high schools. Enrollment jumps 40 percent or more are expected in seven counties.
Additional state aid isn't the only answer but it certainly is a good starting point. Still, a puny $20 million won't suffice when the five-year demand for new schools is nearly $1 billion.
Why not turn to a larger and more viable revenue source -- the proposed cigarette tax increase? If lawmakers make a strong enough case to the governor, we are certain a deal can be struck to vastly enlarge the school construction budget in exchange for increasing the tobacco tax.
Over a five-year period, such a strategy could come close to meeting most of the demands for new and expanded schools. That would be a sensible strategy to attack the school construction dilemma. And it would avoid the type of regional warfare and electioneering in the State House that could prove so destructive this session.