Memo to Miller: Stop the scam

March 18, 1993

Members of the General Assembly deny they derive political benefit from the state's unnecessary legislative scholarship program.

Surely they jest. Why, then, do they mail announcements of the awards on their personal stationery? It's a wonder they haven't thought of putting their faces on the envelopes containing the announcements, the way Ed McMahon decorates those sweepstakes mailings.

Attempts to abolish the scholarship scam have never progressed so far as the reform proposals of this session. Last Friday, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a bill asking the state to devise a non-political plan that would address the needs of middle-income students currently receiving aid from the legislative program.

The House bill is now before the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. The Senate has always been the main obstacle to reform efforts, but reportedly a third of the senators would vote to kill the program. Another third are undecided. A majority would be mustered if the uncommitted senators were to come out for reform.

The measure must still get by the EEA committee, which is chaired by reform foe Clarence Blount of Baltimore City. What's more, only two of the 11 committee members are said to be against the program, though another five could go either way.

Mr. Blount and other black lawmakers have said they oppose reform because, they claim, killing the legislative give-aways would harm minority students. Baloney. State figures show black students get more aid from Maryland's general scholarship fund than from the senators. Also, minority students are likely to fare even better under a new need-based scholarship program, the Educational Excellence Award, to be introduced in 1995.

Students in many categories would continue to receive aid if the legislative program is junked, and rightly so. The contention here is that lawmakers shouldn't benefit by handing out millions of taxpayer dollars in grants to recipients who include the children of the pols' friends and well-connected constituents.

What the reform campaign in the Senate needs is a push from its president, Thomas V. Mike Miller. The delegates fell in line after House Speaker Clay Mitchell endorsed the bill. The senators would do likewise if Mr. Miller would back the reform measure, openly and forcefully.

Mr. Miller knows this political perk is becoming a political liability in the public's eyes. The House has already shown it understands that fact. Does the Senate president care at all that his chamber could end up looking very foolish? If so, then he should act now to get this bill passed.

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