City clergymen ask leaders for bottle tax and commitment for school facilities

A group of clergymen called on the city's political leaders Thursday to commit to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's bottle tax proposal and schools CEO Andrés Alonso's large-scale facilities plan that would fund a huge overhaul of the city's dilapidated school buildings.

The religious leaders, part of the Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, also called on the mayor and the schools chief to unite to undertake the project as rapidly as possible by securing enough funding to give the school system more borrowing authority.

"Today was a challenge to all of Baltimore, the political establishments, the City Council, the business community, for us all to coalesce around the issue of new school construction and the need to raise the $2.8 billion that it will take," said Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chairman of BUILD, which has joined a coalition of education and community groups that have made school facilities a priority.

In the last week, Alonso has formally proposed a plan that would require the system to borrow $1.2 billion — six times its current borrowing authority — to float bonds and tackle the estimated $2.8 billion in repairs and construction immediately.

The schools chief has asked the city and the state to commit to a steady stream of revenue, which would allow the system to pay the debt back over 30 years.

Rawlings-Blake has remained noncommittal about Alonso's proposal, instead championing a more fiscally conservative plan.

The mayor would devote $23 million in new funds to school construction to allow the system to float as much as $300 million in bonds. That includes $10 million from a proposal to raise the bottle tax from 2 cents to 5 cents, which the mayor will introduce next week.

Miles said the group was "not convinced that $300 million is enough to meet the need. ... Our children deserve the best, and now is the time to do it.

"In recent days, since the mayor's State of the City [address], there's been some confusion around where we were headed," he said. "We need to clear the air and for all of us to reaffirm the commitment to" do this.

The group, which held a news conference outside Excel Academy on West Saratoga Street, also called on the city's business community to pledge $10 million annually for the next 10 years.

"We're calling on the city administration, the City Council and the mayor to hold up any more [tax breaks for developers] until the corporate community comes to the table. Together, we can transform Baltimore," Miles said.

erica.green@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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