Rude Reception for Kittleman HOWARD COUNTY

February 25, 1993

Since the late 1980s, Del. Robert Kittleman of Howard County has repeatedly tried to reform the state's embarrassing legislative scholarship program, a political perk that enables senators and delegates to dole out several millions of dollars annually to students in their districts.

But just as quickly as Mr. Kittleman proposed his bills, his Annapolis colleagues shot them down. No surprise there, because legislators have long been loath to surrender the program.

So Mr. Kittleman shouldn't have been caught off guard by the rude welcome that he and his latest reform measure received last Tuesday in a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Del. Leslie Hutchinson of Baltimore County told Mr. Kittleman she was "quite offended" by his reform effort and others like it. Del. Michael Gordon of Montgomery County accused him of "just playing politics" by pushing a bill that has little chance of getting through the Senate. (Mr. Gordon is probably on the money about that last part. Even if a bill passes the House, it will likely be laughed out of the upper chamber, whose members commit the program's greatest abuses.)

A University of Maryland sophomore from Howard County, Rebecca Dubin, also was treated roughly for testifying on behalf of reform.

The reception given to Mr. Kittleman and Ms. Dubin is all too typical of the way lawmakers in Annapolis have protected the scholarship program. Rather than display anger, legislators should register a little shame over the fact that Maryland is the only state with such a program.

Advocates 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 lawmakers, come from families with incomes ranging from $80,000 to $172,000.

Not only has Mr. Kittleman acted courageously but a majority of Howard's state legislators have openly opposed this patronage perk. They should continue attempting to build the momentum that has grown in recent years and that might yet -- maybe next year if not this session -- do away with the scholarship scam.

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