Computer Games or Political Games?

October 05, 1994

The unanimity among members of the Howard County Council and County Executive Charles I. Ecker over providing $1.6 million to purchase computers for older schools should not obscure the fact that opposition to this apparent slice of political mom's apple pie does exist.

Democrat Susan B. Gray, who is running for executive, doesn't like the idea of borrowing money to buy computers, as the county is doing under this Technology Equalization Project.

There is some substance to Ms. Gray's argument that computers -- technological goods with relatively short shelf lives -- are not the kind of investment that should be pursued through borrowing and an increase in the debt load. Ms. Gray proposes that the money for such major school purchases come from abandoning other projects, such as road construction that she says whets the appetite for growth.

The wisdom of the second part of Ms. Gray's stance, however, is lacking. Road projects do more than cause growth; they help manage the growth that has already occurred. Just as there is pressure on county officials to supply computers at older schools, there is considerable pressure from residents who have grown weary of traveling on congested roads.

Governing is an exersise in pleasing different constituencies, but it is also more than that. The current crop of elected officials, although not always in accord on tactics, has a philosophy that the county must for economic and quality-of-life reasons maintain a healthy level of growth while continuing to make its schools among Maryland's best.

If the computers were to be purchased for the schools, the choice was to borrow the money or find another source. Mr. Ecker says that the only alternative would have been to raise the property tax, which he had sworn not to do.

What would Ms. Gray do when confronted with the same choice? She had expressed a willingness to raise the property tax to achieve her goals, but now denies making that statement. If she is closing the door on that option, where will she turn for funding to achieve her goals?

The last thing Howard County residents want is for their leaders to bog down in political ideology while their children's education suffers.

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