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Senate panel OKs Baltimore school construction financing bill

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has unanimously approved a 35-year plan to leverage $60 million a year in public money to pay for nearly $1 billion worth of renovations to Baltimore schools.

The panel voted 13-0 to approve House Bill 860 with just one technical amendment, continuing the legislation’s expedited path toward expected approval. The bill was passed by the House of Delegates on Friday and the committee held a public hearing on Tuesday.

Under the bill, the state would commit $20 million a year from lottery ticket revenue, the city would commit $20 million a year from its bottle tax revenue, the rent and table game taxes paid by a future Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street and other sources, and the city’s school system would contribute $20 million.

State fiscal analysts predict that the $60 million would leverage between $900 and $970 million in bonds, each to be repaid within 30 years of issuance. The Maryland Stadium Authority — which used a similar mechanism to pay for construction of M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards —  would issue the bonds.

The committee unanimously approved the bill despite concerns from some members about such a long-term plan.

“We’re making an extremely long commitment of state funds,” said Sen. James “Ed” DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Budget and Taxation Chairman Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore County and Howard County, said the bill wouldn’t go before the full Senate for a few days.

He added that the Budget and Taxation Committee would vote Thursday on a comprehensive plan to fund transportation projects through gas tax and transit fare increases.