Top Maryland Democrats agree to $290 million package to help Baltimore

Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have agreed on a package of more than $290 million in aid designed to spark a rebirth in Baltimore.

But Gov. Larry Hogan — while supportive of making the city's future "better and brighter," according to a spokesman — opposes the sort of mandates that Democratic leaders proposed to pay for it.


Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller announced his support Wednesday for a package of nine bills — plus millions of dollars in the state budget for city parks — that House Speaker Michael E. Busch developed with leaders in his chamber.

With support from the leader in each chamber, the legislation is likely to be approved by the Assembly.


Among the lawmakers' most unusual proposals is a mentorship program that would grant full college scholarships to low-income students who sign up as eighth-graders.

Other ideas, such as keeping libraries open 12 hours a day, seven days a week and giving prominent city institutions grants to move into and develop blighted areas, have been pushed by Busch for months.

"It's an opportunity to show the country, if you will, that you can have a renaissance in these urban communities that seem to have fallen on hard times," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "Baltimore can be an example of how to create a renaissance and a rebirth of your urban areas."

The legislation includes a ramped-up program to demolishing vacant housing, similar to one backed by Hogan; $12 million in grants for Baltimore-area neighborhood groups to redevelop rundown areas; and money for a program at Towson University that helps train people for construction jobs.

The package would provide money for after-school and summer programs, create a school for adults to get a high school diploma rather than an equivalency certification, and allow public universities in the city to give preference to Baltimore businesses when awarding contracts.

The House also carved out at least $16.5 million in additional funding for Baltimore parks, including money for projects at Druid Hill Park's trail head, and Herring Run, Clifton, Frank C. Bocek, James Mosher and Patterson parks.

Taken together, the proposals would cost taxpayers at least $290 million over the next five years.

"It's a step forward to make a great city greater," said Miller, a Calvert County Democrat. He said the state could certainly afford it. Maryland has a projected $450 million budget surplus.

A Hogan spokesman said the governor wants to help the city but "can't help but have concerns" about the proposed spending mandates, which would restrict how the governor can allocate money in the state budget. Matthew A. Clark said the city "should serve as the economic and cultural heart of our state."

Democrats say their proposals would achieve that objective.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, pushed for the $5 million-a-year mentorship program to revive a long-dormant scholarship for low-income students.

Already, she said, students from areas with concentrated poverty are entitled to a full scholarship at a college in Maryland if they sign up for the program as high school freshmen and later earn admission.


She said there is no limit to the number of students who can qualify, but the program is little-used and lacks the support needed to help children from challenging backgrounds get to college in the first place.

"That's what's been missing in Maryland," she said.

The "next-generation scholars" program would allow seventh- and eighth-graders to sign up for the scholarships, which McIntosh said would catch students before they are at greatest risk of dropping out.

The mentorship program — open to low-income students in districts where at least half receive free or reduced-price lunch — would provide counseling, academic help and experiences with nearby businesses that can help students succeed in school.

"This is a hope pathway," McIntosh said. "This is taking [students] who aren't thinking about college and, with every step, giving them more and more hope to be, probably, the first in their family to get to college."

If students keep their grades up, do not use drugs, meet other requirements and get into a publicly funded Maryland school, McIntosh said, they would be granted a full scholarship.

Students admitted to a private university, such as Johns Hopkins, would be given a partial scholarship equivalent to the price of tuition at a public school.

This year, students on free or reduced-price lunch in Baltimore City and in Allegany, Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Prince George's, Somerset and Wicomico counties would qualify for the scholarship. Each jurisdiction could apply for grants to set up the mentorship program to support students.

Three of nine bills that make up the broader Baltimore package have been passed by the House. The remaining six are expected to move through the chamber before Monday, legislative aides said.

Many would require the governor to spend millions each year, so-called "mandated spending" to which Hogan has vociferously objected. As recently as last week, Hogan convened a news conference to chide lawmakers for proposing mandates, even to pay for programs he supports.

The Hogan administration has not taken a position on each bill in the package, but Clark said the city already receives one-fifth of the local aid provided by the state, one-third of the state's construction budget and 62 percent of the transportation budget.

"We clearly share many of the same objectives on issues like blight, but we can't help but have concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars in new, required spending in these bills," he said.

Busch said most of the proposals were five-year programs that would end automatically and that guaranteed funding was critical to ensure their success.

He said the city deserves the help.

"Baltimore is still the mother city," Busch said. "It supported the rest of the state for well over a century."

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.


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