Gary likely to sue over school funds Executive would join action to block Baltimore settlement; City would get $254 million; Decree is opposed because it was made in court, not assembly


County Executive John G. Gary told Anne Arundel legislators last night that he would almost certainly join Montgomery County in a future lawsuit to block Gov. Parris N. Glendening from sending $254 million to Baltimore schools.

"We may very well enter the suit if it goes forward," the Republican executive told Anne Arundel's state and county elected leadership during his annual legislative dinner. "But not for the reasons you might think."

Gary, a Republican known for supporting Baltimore causes during 12 years in the House of Delegates, said the consent decree resolving a legal fight between Baltimore and the state over school funding and management should have been decided in the General Assembly, not in Baltimore Circuit Court.

In what amounted to a call to arms, Gary warned Anne Arundel's 13-member House delegation and four of the county's five state Senators who attended the dinner at Loews Annapolis Hotel that they should brace for a fight.

"You as legislators should not allow the judiciary to take away your powers," said Gary, after outlining the county's slim agenda for the General Assembly session that starts next month. "And that's exactly what they're going to do. We're going to slow this down in court so you can take action. You can't just let this slide."

Along with other county executives around the state, Gary is concerned that his jurisdiction's share of state education funding will shrink substantially if Baltimore receives the settlement money, which is to be paid out over five years. Anne Arundel received $128.9 million from the state this year for public education.

Montgomery County has asked the Court of Appeals to void the settlement. Frederick County has said it would join a lawsuit if that court did not rule in Montgomery's favor.

Most other county leaders are waiting to see how the Montgomery request turns out.

Gary's statement last night was the strongest indication yet that he would jump into what could be a protracted legal fray, pitting some of Maryland's largest counties against the governor for more education money.

Glendening, a Democrat, is also planning to introduce legislation that would cut state income taxes by 10 percent. That plan, which would reduce state revenue by $440 million, further frightens county leaders.

"I can't think of a more difficult time trying to deal with a tax reduction," said Gary, who prides himself on his fiscal skills. "It's going to take a lot of work to make those numbers make sense."

In sharp contrast to last year, Gary presented a brief agenda for the coming General Assembly session. The legislative dinner is his chance to pitch what have historically been controversial legislative wish lists for the four-month frenzy ahead.

Not last night.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a pretty lean palette this year," said Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican who chairs the county's House delegation.

Gary plans to introduce legislation -- most likely through Bissett -- that would:

Create an oversight panel to run Tipton Airport. A joint venture with Howard County, the regional airport is more than a year behind schedule as the Army continues to pick unexploded ammunition from the air field.

Despite misgivings by Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, Gary said he plans to sign a lease for the 365-acre property by next June.

Allow citizens to pay for all county services with credit or debit cards.

Now the public can use credit cards to pay only property taxes, but not for any other services. The legislation would allow them to use credit for park fees, dog licenses, building permits and any other county service. "That's not a real biggie," Gary said.

Issue $1 million in state bonds for the continuing renovation of the historic Wiley H. Bates High School.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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