Panel votes to kill scholarship program House committee also rejects Senate bill to end keno

March 06, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer Staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

A House of Delegates committee voted overwhelmingly last night to abolish the legislative scholarship program, the first time in at least 25 years that a House panel has attacked the cherished political perk.

The Ways and Means Committee voted 23-1 for a bill that would end the $7 million program in October 1994. The proposal calls on the General Assembly to come back next year with a replacement aid program for middle-income college students -- but one that is not perceived as tainted by politics.

Maryland is the only state in the nation that allows senators and delegates to distribute scholarship money.

Before the committee voted in Annapolis, an aide and two lieutenants of House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. watched the proceedings -- a visual reminder that the powerful speaker was supporting the reform this session.

Mr. Mitchell's backing virtually guarantees that the full House will give the legislation careful consideration -- and probably pass it.

The sole negative vote yesterday belonged to Del. W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel, who said the proposal was a mere ploy to make delegates look good. "This bill's on the fast track for 'perception,' " he said.

His charge was denied by Del. Henry B. Heller, D-Montgomery, who supervised the drafting of the committee bill.

Newspapers and television stations have reported on senators who gave scholarships to relatives, friends and wealthy constituents -- facts that have not escaped the attention of angry voters.

State House observers say the speaker and other key delegates believe the program has become too costly in terms of the bad publicity.

"The political environment has changed, and now there are substantial political liabilities to keeping the program," said Phil Andrews of Common Cause, a public-interest lobbying group that has been fighting to abolish legislative scholarships for the past five years.

"Largely because of the senators, the delegates have been paying an enormous political price for it," Mr. Andrews said.

The 141 delegates have only about $10,000 each to distribute, while the 47 senators each dole out $120,000 in scholarships a year -- all with no oversight and few rules.

The money represents fully a quarter of the college scholarship aid that is distributed by the state. The rest is awarded under a separate program that is based on financial need and administered by a state government agency.

The scholarship proposal has already raised the hackles of some senators, who are accusing the House of trying to embarrass them by pushing the reform.

"When you send this one over, you know there is going to be a battle between the House and the Senate," said Del. Michael J. Sprague, D-Charles County.

Some senators are angry that the same House committee killed a Senate reform effort -- which would have abolished the new keno lottery game -- on the same day it passed the scholarship proposal.

As expected, the committee voted 14-10 against a Senate bill that would have ended keno Dec. 31 and barred the state Lottery Agency from launching new games without legislative approval.

Delegates argued yesterday that they did not want to end the game because the state budget is being balanced with keno profits.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday he would not comment on the House scholarship bill right away.

"Let me see if the bill does in fact come over from the House of Delegates and what posture the bill takes," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

"Certainly no one objects to reform, but I don't know if, in these recessionary times when middle class Marylanders are finding it increasingly difficult to find scholarship money, that we should seek to eliminate a major source of financial aid to students."

HOUSE COMMITTEE ROLL CALL VOTE

The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved a bill to end legislative scholarship program in October 1994. "Yea" is a vote to end the program.

Voting Yea (23)

John J. Bishop, R-Balt. Co.

James W. Campbell, D-Baltimore

Mary A. Conroy, D-P. George's

Gene W. Counihan, D-Mont.

David R. Craig, R-Harford

Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore

Ronald Franks, R-Queen Anne's

Michael R. Gordon, D-Mont.

Thomas H. Hattery, D-Frederick

Anne Healey, D-P. George's

Henry B. Heller, D-Mont.

Carolyn Howard, D-P. George's

Brenda Hughes, D-P. George's

Leslie Hutchinson, D-Balt. Co.

Theodore Levin, D-Balt. Co.

Salima S. Marriott, D-Baltimore

James F. Ports Jr., R-Balt. Co.

James C. Rosapepe, D-P. George's

Elizabeth S. Smith, R-A. Arundel

Michael J. Sprague, D-Charles

Robert A. Thornton Jr., D-Talbot

Paul E. Weisengoff, D-Baltimore

Betty Workman, D-Allegany

Voting Nay (1)

W. Ray Huff, D-A. Arundel

Did Not Vote (1)

Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery

(acting chair votes to break ties)

Tyras S. Athey, D-A. Arundel (ill)

Charles R. Avara, D-Baltimore (ill)

John Douglass, D-Baltimore (abs.)

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