Scholarship Program Under Fire

STATE HOUSE WATCH -- A REPORT ON THE ANNE ARUNDEL DELEGATION

Bill Would Require State Lawmakers Topublicize Recipients Of Awards

January 23, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Because some state lawmakers have abused the senatorial and delegatescholarship programs, two Anne Arundel delegates want legislators topublicize who they award scholarships to each year.

Delegates Elizabeth S. Smith, R-Davidsonville, and John Gary, R-Millersville, saidthey hope their proposal will quiet a movement to eliminate the $6.4million programs altogether.

Their bill, introduced last week, would require lawmakers to filean annual report with the State Scholarship Administration listing the names and addresses of scholarship recipients that year. The report, which would be available for public inspection, also would detail the amount of the scholarships and the schools the recipients attend.

"We're always accused of giving scholarships to our friends, relatives or family members," Smith said. "A very few have abused the program and, unfortunately, that puts a black mark on the whole thing.

"This will bring out anybody who is abusing the system."

Delegate Gary added, "We're getting a little sick and tired of being beat upby the media all the time, saying there is some hidden agenda. The scholarship program works well taking care of kids who fall through the loops of the general scholarship program.

"I see it as a safety net," Gary said. "The media see it as some sort of political plum."

A growing contingent in the General Assembly, led by Delegate Robert Kittleman, R-Howard, sees the scholarship program as a form of political patronage. Kittleman has reintroduced a measure to eliminate the program. Similar efforts have failed the past three years.

"It probably won't pass this year, either," Kittleman said yesterday. "Butsupport is building fast.

"What Betty and John are doing will hasten the day when there won't be any (legislative scholarships)," Kittleman said. "It will educate the public that these programs exist. Once the public is educated, it's gone."

Maryland is the last state that allows its lawmakers to distribute scholarship money to their constituents. Pennsylvania abandoned the practice in 1979.

In fiscalyear 1992, which begins July 1, lawmakers will decide who receives more than 25 percent of the $22.2 million in scholarships awarded by the state, said Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the State Scholarship Administration.

Delegates can award 16 one-year scholarships equivalent to the tuition at the University of Maryland, for a total of $38,800 over their four-year term.

Senators have far more money to divide among constituents, allocating a total of $5 million annually, compared to the delegates' $1.4 million. Senators can award $108,000 in four-year scholarships every year. That amount will rise to $138,000 by fiscal year 1995.

Phil Andrews, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, said the average senatorial scholarship is $500 a year, "which means they are spreading the money around, which helps thestudents only marginally but helps the senators significantly in gaining goodwill."

Common Cause, a non-partisan group concerned with reforming election campaigns, supports Kittleman's bill.

The Smith-Gary bill would be an improvement by making legislators more accountable, Andrews said. But he said the "inherent problem" of letting legislators decide who receives the money remains.

"It's another formof political patronage and another incumbent advantage that should be removed," he said.

A 1989 poll conducted by the University of Maryland for Common Cause found 41 percent of Maryland residents thought control of the legislative scholarships should be given to the State Scholarship Administration, Andrews said. Another 45 percent had noopinion or were unaware the program existed, he said.

Andrews added that more than 70 of the 188 state legislators said in a survey ofcandidates last summer that they would support eliminating the scholarship program. Most of that support is in the House of Delegates, hesaid.

Of Anne Arundel County's 18 legislators, only Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis, and Delegate George W. Owings, D-Owings, favored eliminating the program, Andrews said.

"I don't see any way the legislature is going to get rid of them," Smith said. "Our bill isa middle ground of sorts."

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