Don't blow it, Mr. Blount

April 05, 1994

It's a first. The state Senate committee that handles proposals to reform the legislative scholarship program apparently has enough votes to send the measure to the Senate floor -- where there also seems to be a majority to end this shameful political perk once and for all. (During recent General Assembly sessions, the House of Delegates has overwhelmingly approved reform bills.)

Despite this unprecedented level of support, this year's legislation, which would transfer the more than $7 million in legislative grants to the control of the State Scholarship Administration, might be killed at the whim of one man.

That man is Sen. Clarence Blount of Baltimore City, the Senate committee chairman who has stubbornly and most undemocratically refused to schedule a vote on the legislation. Why? Because he knows if he lets the measure come to a show of committee hands, it would pass and likely result in full Senate approval. Then he would finally have to loosen his grip on a scam that he and many of his colleagues have enjoyed for too long -- dispensing patronage and buying political good will by personally giving taxpayer-funded scholarships to the children of associates, friends and even relatives.

Mr. Blount justifies his stance by claiming the legislative scholarship program helps him and other black lawmakers ensure that minority students get their fair share of the grants. Baloney. Statistics from the Maryland Higher Education Commission show that nearly 30 percent of the awards given by the general state scholarship program last year went to black students, while about 20 percent of the legislative awards went to blacks. In fact, the pols took better care of suburban white kids than they did urban black kids with greater need.

Meantime, the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus has been parroting Mr. Blount's line, no doubt out of solidarity with the veteran city senator. The caucus members certainly don't distinguish themselves by joining Mr. Blount in this transparent position. Their constituents should ask them about the figures from the state's Higher Education Commission the next time the black lawmakers try to defend the legislative scholarship program.

One of the saddest aspects of Mr. Blount's behavior in this matter is that it damages what has been a reputation for fair-mindedness. Does he really wish to be remembered for his defiance of a long-overdue reform that even its former opponents were ready to approve?

The senator should do the right thing by scheduling a vote on scholarship legislation. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller ought to insist on it. Reform has never had such a promising chance. Mr. Blount and company should not blow it now.

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