The Tooth Fairy and Other Gift Givers ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

February 25, 1993

Del. Tyras S. Athey of Anne Arundel County, chairman of the House of Delegates' Ways and Means Committee, is right on the money -- unfortunately -- when he says, "If you think the Senate is going to pass [any House reform of the state's legislative scholarship program], you must believe in the tooth fairy."

The scholarship program enables senators and delegates to dole out several million dollars annually to students in their districts. Lawmakers say the money goes to needy students, but the evidence suggests the small grants are used more to secure the futures of 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.

Say this much for the tooth fairy: She never played favorites with her meager gifts the way these legislators do with theirs.

The greatest abuse of the program occurs in the Senate. Sen. William Amoss of Harford County, for example, gave money to two students in his district whose families had incomes of $172,000, while he turned down a student from a family that earned $28,000.

Each senator gets 10 times the scholarship money allocated to each delegate. That's the main reason Mr. Athey noted the slim-to-nil prospects of any reform getting though the Senate, assuming it wins House approval in the first place.

The lower chamber is considering various reform bills. A Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on them last Tuesday.

It was disappointing, though hardly surprising, that some committee members whined and lashed out at reform proponents like bratty kids who refuse to clean up after themselves. Rather than show anger, maybe it's time legislators felt some shame that Maryland is the only state that still has such an abused scholarship program.

The protests of certain Ways and Means members notwithstanding, a majority of the committee backs the reform efforts. Those lawmakers seeking reform should continue building the momentum that seems to have grown of late and that might someday -- maybe next year if not this session -- extract the scholarship scam like a bad tooth.

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