Glendening scholarship plan dies in committee Legislators strip funding from HOPE initiative

March 30, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

HOPE is no longer alive.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's HOPE college scholarship initiative, announced with great fanfare in his State of the State address in January, slipped into legislative oblivion yesterday as a House-Senate conference committee stripped the funds to launch the program from the state budget.

The move ended this year's effort to win approval for the program, one of the priority items on the governor's 1997 legislative agenda.

The HOPE scholarship program was intended to help low- and middle-income Maryland families pay the cost of college tuition. It fell victim to legislative leaders' concerns about its eventual costs -- estimated at $48 million to more than $100 million a year once fully implemented.

HOPE's demise came as no surprise. The House of Delegates included a modest appropriation to start the program in its proposed budget bill -- more as a courtesy to the governor than out of real enthusiasm -- but the initiative had been on life support virtually since its introduction.

"We pulled the plug -- took it off the respirator," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, after yesterday's decision.

The end came quickly and quietly.

As the budget item came up on the agenda, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, announced flatly that the "HOPE scholarship has no hope this year."

Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, dryly observed that the appropriation was not on Glendening's list of budget cuts he strongly objected to. That was that. The House conferees agreed to delete the entire $466,999 in start-up funds, with another $243,528 to renovate a building to house the program.

Frederick W. Puddester, Glendening's secretary of budget and management, said the administration has expected HOPE's end for more than a week.

"The governor had talked to legislative leaders about the HOPE scholarships and they agreed to put together a group to look at the HOPE and potential funding sources," said Puddester. The goal, he said, would be to come back next year with a new HOPE program.

The planned HOPE scholarship, so named because it offered hope for parents needing help sending their children to college, was patterned after a similar program in Georgia.

Under the Glendening proposal, any Maryland student who maintained a "B" average in high school and whose family's annual income was less than $60,000 could receive a scholarship to a Maryland college.

The scholarship idea was well-received by many educators and won praise from President Clinton when he addressed the Maryland General Assembly in February.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince's George's Democrat, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, were harder to persuade. Both said they had misgivings about the program's price tag -- especially at a time when legislators are being asked to cut the state's personal income tax.

Yesterday's vote showed that their concerns had never been allayed.

Soon after killing HOPE, members of the conference committee broke off their daylong effort to reconcile the Senate and House budget bills, leaving the most contentious issue unresolved.

The conferees expect to resume negotiations Tuesday.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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