O'Malley seeks $370 million for school construction

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday he will seek more than $370 million in school construction funding in next year's budget, making the pledge at the same Anne Arundel County elementary school where six years ago he promised a massive infusion of state money if elected governor.

The figure includes $350 million for the state's main Public School Construction Program and more than $20 million for two other programs to build and repair schools.

"We are making the investments we need to make," O'Malley told students. "No investment is more important than the investment in your brainpower." In addition to improving classrooms, the governor said, the money would lead to 11,650 construction jobs.

The pledge marks the sixth installment of funding for a school construction program that O'Malley has made a priority in his budgets. In his first four years, the governor earmarked more than $1 billion for capital school projects.

The school construction money for the budget year that begins July 1 — which needs General Assembly approval — would come from increased borrowing. In this year's budget, the Assembly approved $311 million for school construction, including a one-time $47 million infusion from the increase to the alcohol tax.

There's no shortage of demand. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz asked state lawmakers Tuesday to spend $70 million on school construction in his county, on projects including the new Dundalk and Sollers Point Technical high schools, renovations and additions at Stoneleigh Elementary, new windows and doors at Pikesville High School, and a new roof at Hereford High School.

House Republican Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell said pledging tens of millions more toward school building "might sound good," but argued that Maryland is not in a position to borrow more. "Where does the money come from?" O'Donnell said. "The taxpayers of Maryland ought to order a cease-and-desist letter on this governor because he his out of control."

O'Malley visited Germantown Elementary School when he first ran for governor in 2006. In 2010, while campaigning against former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., O'Malley returned to the school to promise another $1 billion if re-elected. At that point the elementary still had trailers for overflow classrooms, which O'Malley referred to as "temporary learning shacks."

Since that time, a gleaming new elementary school has been built. O'Malley toured the facility Tuesday with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

The governor watched 7-year olds work in the computer lab and took a minute to try the climbing wall. At one point, while marveling at the technology in a fourth grade classroom, O'Malley leaned close to Busch and whispered, "It makes you feel good."

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this story article.