The Reality of Howard's Wish List

January 13, 1994

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans better than four to one in the state legislature, the prospects for Howard County's GOP-dominated delegation may seem dim.

But that would underestimate the role Republicans play in political bartering in Annapolis, and it ignores the clout of a Republican county executive here who sometimes leans to the left and a Democratic governor who sometimes leans right. Still, political realities can't be ignored: Howard comprises 4 percent of the state's population. It is little match for the state's four political behemoths -- Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties. Maneuvering in such an arena will always test the skill of Howard's elected officials.

The bills the county's nine-member delegation are likely to push are varied and mostly parochial. One would compel unlicensed enterprises that advertise nude dancing to be governed by alcoholic beverage ordinances, even when they don't serve alcohol. Another measure would require developers seeking a zoning change to disclose campaign contributions exceeding $500 to County Council members, who also comprise the Zoning Board. A third bill would extend for several years the county's ability to levy a business excise tax to assist in funding school and road construction projects.

Also, the delegation is backing several bond bills -- to establish an agriculture center in western Howard, to renovate the historic Ellicott City Colored School and to create a performing arts center at Wilde Lake High. Only the Colored School measure is given a significant chance of approval.

County politicians also are carrying with them to Annapolis some pet projects. Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, is pushing a statewide ban on smoking in public places and a bill that would require landlords to fix peeling lead paint at their properties. Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, D-14, meanwhile, has crafted a measure that would restrict the power of the county's superintendent to transfer school personnel. And, county Councilman C. Vernon Gray is calling for a measure that would make it easier for mobile homeowners to buy the land beneath their trailers.

In the end, the county's aspirations must confront the specter of election-year posturing and the limitations of a sluggish economy. That's reality.

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