Four of Carroll's six state legislators support keeping...

ANNAPOLIS '92 -- Carroll County delgation

March 15, 1992|By Common Cause of Maryland

ANNAPOLIS — Four of Carroll's six state legislators support keeping the scholarship program that allows them to distribute money to constituents, turning aside claims by some groups that the system is abused for political gain.

"There are many families who don't meet the low-income qualifications for other kinds of scholarships," said Del. Lawrence A.LaMotte, a Democrat. "This is a way for middle-class people to get some financial help."

A Common Cause of Maryland study calls for reform of the program providing legislators $6.43 million -- $5.07 million for 47 senators and $1.36 million for 141 delegates -- to grant to college students for 1992-1993.

The watchdog group charged that many senators distribute relatively unsubstantial amounts to a large number of constituents in order to broaden their support.

Common Cause found that somescholarships were being awarded to families with incomes of $50,000 or more in which no financial need was demonstrated, based on a ranking formula.

"It is inevitable that senators receive political benefits" from the scholarship program, the report says. "Legislators have no more business distributing public scholarship money to constituents than they would have distributing food or medical assistance."

Common Cause's report shows that Sen. Charles H. Smelser, a Democratrepresenting western Carroll, awarded 15 scholarships worth a total of $5,900 in 1989-1990 and six scholarships worth a total $2,800 in 1990-1991 to students from families whose income was $50,000 or more. The families showed no financial need, according to the formula the state uses for its scholarship program.

Former Sen. Raymond E. Beck, who represented most of Carroll and part of Baltimore County, awarded 18 scholarships totaling $8,700 to higher-income families that didn't demonstrate need in 1989-1990. His replacement, Sharon W. Hornberger, doled out 13 of those scholarships worth $7,100 in 1990-1991.

The averages for all senators for this category were 13.4 scholarships totaling $5,917 in 1989-1990; and 13.7 scholarships worth $6,244 in 1990-1991.

The average amount of a semester award from Smelser for four academic years between 1987 and 1991 was $232; from Beck or Hornberger, it was $310.

A Senate committee heard testimony Friday on a bill that would

abolish delegate and senatorial scholarships and redirect the money to a state fund. Carroll Republican Del. Donald B. Elliott is one of 23 co-sponsors of the same bill in the House.

Smelser objects to Common Cause's methods and conclusions.

"Common Cause should have come in and asked why I gave those scholarships, then they would understand better," he said.

Smelser interviews the students to whom he awards scholarships and looks for "extenuating circumstances." For example, he awarded a scholarship to a student whose parent's income had dropped from about $61,000 to $47,000. The student also was working to overcome drug and alcohol problems.

"Ifelt if I showed interest in the young man and had faith, it could help him stay clean and give him confidence," Smelser said. "I've always prided myself on talking to these students and finding out how they feel on certain things, in addition to their needs. I think I'm doing a pretty good job."

Smelser acknowledges that much is left to the legislators' judgment and that the program could be abused.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican elected in 1990, said he believes elected officials familiar with their districts can make more informed decisions on scholarship awards than "a bureaucratic board on the state level." An appointed screening committee helps take politics out ofthe process, he said.

Elliott contends the program has "an element of political patronage. I've never felt we should have it."

Maryland is the only state that has such a scholarship program. Senators dole out more than $100,000 each and delegates distribute about $9,000 each -- amounts scheduled to increase.

Four Carroll legislators -- Elliott, LaMotte, Haines and Democratic Del. Richard N. Dixon -- formed scholarship committees to screen applicants and recommend recipients.

Republican Del. Richard C. Matthews, who says he'd vote to abolish the program, screens applicants himself.

Elliott, Dixon and Matthews say they award four or fewer scholarships annually worth an average of about $2,500 each -- the cost of tuition and fees for a full year at the University of Maryland.

SENATORIAL SCHOLARSHIPS, '87-'90

SENATORIAL SCHOLARSHIPS, '87-'90

Senate .. .... .. Total .. No. of ..Average .. No need .. No need

district .. . .. amount .. .recip. ..Amount .. .amount .. .recip.

4 .. .. .. .. .$244,200 .. .. 521 .. ..$232 .. .$8,700 .. .. ..21

5 .. .. .. .. ..266,470 .. .. 426 .. .. 310 .. .15,800 .. .. ..31

State total $12,507,170 .. 23,642 .. ..$286 ..$571,550 .. ..1,247

State average ..266,110 .. .. 503 .. .. 286 .. .12,160 .. .. ..26

NO NEED AWARDS, '90-'91

Dist. Family income Award Dist. Family income Award

4 .. .. .. .$81,338 .$500 5 .. .. .. .$81,259 .$700

4 .. .. .. ..80,734 ..500 5 .. .. .. ..76,024 ..600

4 .. .. .. ..72,595 ..500 5 .. .. .. ..76,011 ..500

4 .. .. .. ..64,000 ..500 5 .. .. .. ..71,640 ..500

4 .. .. .. ..53,327 ..300 5 .. .. .. ..68,358 ..500

4 .. .. .. ..50,764 ..500 5 .. .. .. ..68,149 ..500

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..5.. .. .. ..67,634 ..400

5 .. .. .. .128,386 ..600 5 .. .. .. ..67,461 ..600

5 .. .. .. ..86,001 ..500 5 .. .. ... .56,649 ..500

5 .. .. .. ..83,281 ..500 5 .. .. .. ..55,986 ..700

NOTES: District 4 is Sen. Charles Smelser; District 5 was Raymond Beck and Sharon Hornberger; also, "no need" means Common Cause found no financial reason for the award

4 OF 6 SAY CRITICISMS OF POTENTIAL ABUSE FOR POLITICAL GAIN UNJUSTIFIED

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