Feuding over the Loot

April 25, 1994

The General Assembly session ended two weeks ago with Howard County receiving an unexpectedly large chunk of the state money set aside for school construction. Howard's share of the money for capital school projects will be nearly $12 million, more than it has gotten since at least the mid-1980s.

Ordinarily, that would be something for county lawmakers to crow about. But delegation members are too busy feuding over the fact that two-thirds of the money will go to projects in or near the district of East Columbia Del. Virginia Thomas.

Ms. Thomas' colleagues are particularly upset over her premature grab of credit for $14 million in school capital funds and her written suggestions to the Board of Public Works on where the money should be spent. Other delegation members say these maneuvers cost the county an additional $2 million for its new eastern high school.

Ms. Thomas responds that she did what any elected representative should do -- fight for her constituents. No doubt her designs on a Senate seat inspired her to try flexing some political muscle -- and to claim credit for the victory. The fact remains, though, that school officials are pleased with the aid they got, delegation feud or not. True, Ms. Thomas has a history of such end-runs, but perhaps the delegation and its leaders should ask themselves if they lacked the cohesiveness that would have prevented this latest incident.

The feud over school construction money aside, Howard fared well in Annapolis in other categories. The overall amount of direct state aid to the county will increase by 7.7 percent for fiscal year 1995. There was even some pork for a performing arts center at Wilde Lake High School and a museum of local black history. As for local legislation, the key measures that won passage would force zoning applicants to disclose contributions of $500 or more to Zoning Board members (who also constitute the County Council); ban nude dancing at bring-your-own-booze clubs and block repeal of the local 5 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms.

Like other delegations in this play-it-safe election year, Howard legislators made no bold moves -- other than the one by Ginny Thomas. However, the impact of that action has blunted what otherwise would be even happier news about a windfall of school construction money.

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