Ending Political Scholarships

January 07, 1995

Could 1995 be the year that the political patronage perk

known as legislative scholarships finally bites the dust?

Key Senate leaders in Annapolis are saying some encouraging things, but don't count on their voting to turn over to an impartial board the $32 million they award in scholarships in their four-year term.

There's no question these State House perks should be abolished. Elected senators and delegates have no business doling out college scholarships. Too many of them use them as reelection tools. They parcel out $400 here, $200 there to thousands of students (including relatives), hoping to win the undying allegiance of their parents.

The awards amount to a pittance at tuition time, but self-important politicians maintain that these awards make it possible for thousands of middle-class Marylanders to attend classes. Parents with college-age kids know better.

Both Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of Prince George's County and Sen. Clarence Blount of Baltimore now say they are ready -- finally -- to do away with legislative scholarships. Both men were embarrassed last year by their adamant opposition to ending a blatant patronage program in the face of strong public pressure. They looked foolish, especially after the House of Delegates voted to terminate the perks.

With a large group of freshmen legislators to contend with, the two men cannot block scholarship reform much longer. Most of these freshmen told Common Cause during the campaign that they favored ending the scholarship perks. Mr. Miller and Mr. Blount can't afford to cling to the past.

And yet, the crafty Senate president is setting down some caveats that indicate he'd just as soon pass a bill that seems to abolish legislative scholarships but doesn't truly accomplish that result.

For instance, he talks of a four-year phase-out of the program -- nTC long enough so that he and his 46 colleagues can enjoy the full political benefits of the $32 million in scholarship awards leading up to the 1998 election. He also talks of ensuring that the money continues to be parceled out, not on the basis of need or merit, but on the basis of political districts. That's no longer acceptable.

This patronage program should be eliminated immediately. Students who received awards for the fall or spring semester should continue to receive the same amount of scholarship aid until they graduate from college. But no new political patronage awards should be granted.

Turning this large pot of money over to the state scholarship administration would greatly expand the panel's ability to give bigger awards to more students strictly on the basis of need or merit -- with no political considerations.

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