Power player in Annapolis Baltimore County: Once-fractured delegation impressive for second straight session.

April 10, 1997

BALTIMORE COUNTY'S 37-member delegation to the General Assembly, once too factionalized to be a player in Annapolis, has become a power to reckon with on matters of statewide importance, an effective representative of its citizens.

For the second year in a row, the county delivered the biggest issue of the session. Last year it was the Ravens stadium; this year, a $254 million aid package for Baltimore's failing schools. Led by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the delegation made Washington-area counties -- which wanted oodles of money in exchange for support of the city aid plan -- look greedy and shortsighted.

Baltimore County's delegation saw what these counties did not: that Maryland can't afford what those jurisdictions wanted, that we all have a stake in whether thousands of city children grow up unable to read or hold a job.

It's not as if the counties walked away emptyhanded. A compromise, which Mr. Ruppersberger supported, gives the counties $167 million in school aid over five years. Baltimore County's share (as determined in a complex formula) is nearly 20 percent of the total, or $32 million. Plus, it won $25 million in school construction money, a 68 percent increase. Overall state aid for the county this year increased by $27.4 million, or 10.5 percent, the greatest percentage increase of any subdivision.

Mr. Ruppersberger was key to this success. He has preached the value of a united front since he was elected; he has walked the halls in Annapolis keeping his people together.

Early in the session, he defused conflict over the county's community colleges, which threatened to splinter the delegation, by proposing reforms everyone could live with. After that, virtually every issue on his local agenda won approval. These include a bill allowing workers at small businesses to take discrimination cases to court, and funds to build community centers in Turner's Station and Hillendale, spruce up Liberty and York roads and buy parkland for the Honeygo planned community.

The suburban Washington counties talk about how the state's "power center" has shifted their way. Actually, the new power player is Baltimore County, whose lawmakers have finally learned how much they can accomplish by thinking beyond their own districts.

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