Taking On the Scholarship Scam

February 25, 1993

It was disappointing, though hardly surprising, to see how members of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee acted at last Tuesday's hearing on proposals to reform the state's embarrassing legislative scholarship program.

Committee members whined. They bristled. They lashed out. In short, they behaved like bratty kids who refuse to clean up after themselves.

Del. Leslie Hutchinson of Baltimore County told two delegates sponsoring reform bills that she was "quite offended" by their measures. Del. Michael Gordon of Montgomery County accused one sponsor of "just playing politics" by pushing a bill that has little chance of getting through the Senate.

Del. Clarence Davis of Baltimore City put on a particularly boorish performance, berating a University of Maryland sophomore who testified for reform. Call it a hunch, but it's doubtful Mr. Davis would hand that kind of treatment to a slick lobbyist or a political fat cat appearing before the committee.

The members' stance is all too typical of the way lawmakers in Annapolis have long protected this political perk, which enables senators and delegates to dole out several millions of dollars annually to students in their districts.

Legislators should feel ashamed Maryland is the only state that still has such a program. They say the money goes to needy students, but the evidence suggests the grants are used more for the political benefit of the elected officials. All too often, awards go to the children of the pols' friends, relatives and powerful constituents. In addition, many of the recipients, hand-picked by the legislators, come from families with incomes ranging from $80,000 to $172,000.

The protests of Dels. Hutchinson, Gordon and Davis notwithstanding, a majority of the Ways and Means Committee backs the reform efforts. The realistic view, however, is that even if a bill passes the House, it will be laughed right out of the Senate, whose members commit the greatest abuses of the scholarship program. Sen. William Amoss of Harford County, for example, reportedly gave money to two students whose family had an income of $172,000, while he turned down a student from a family that earned $28,000.

Those lawmakers seeking reform should nonetheless continue building the momentum that has grown in recent years and that might yet -- maybe next year if not this year -- do away with the scholarship scam.

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