April 1, 2010

End to legislative scholarships survives House vote

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

A majority of delegates voted Thursday to eliminate $11 million in scholarships they hand out to constituents each year, as the measure moved toward final approval in the House.

Rural and Republican lawmakers fought to hold onto this legislative perk rather than let state bureaucrats make the awards. Many said they were concerned that state scholarship programs may not distribute grants as evenly throughout the state.

The changes would impact thousands of students who may have already applied for grants from their local senators and delegates, but would need to reapply for other state financial aid for September.

The House GOP had originally proposed cutting the scholarship plan as part of a $830 million proposal to cut the budget. But Republicans resisted any change after Appropriations Committee Democrats voted to instead shift the funds to other grant programs run by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

“If this was actually a cut, I’d be hard pressed not to support it,” said Del. Richard Sossi, R-Upper Shore.

“We haven’t done anything for the taxpayer,” said Del. Wayne Norman, R-Harford, since the budget change doesn’t save any money.

Del. Rudy Cane, D-Wicomico, said, the amendment “does a disservice to the sections of Maryland that are poor,” such as his home county.

Several delegates said the program allowed them to take care of special needs in their districts. “We’re better at doing this closest to home,” said Del. Michael Smiegel.

But other delegates objected to the political nature of some awards.

“They give an appearance of impropriety,” said Del. Saqib Ali, D-Montgomery.

“We’re taking politics out of the scholarship process,” said Del. Jon Cardin.

But Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore-Harford, said he doesn’t know of any problems caused by legislative scholarships.

“All I heard was good reports. In our goal to appear angelic, we’re taking away a useful program.”

Del. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s, chair of the education subcommittee that first made the change, defended the shift in the program, saying the House had voted in 1996 to eliminate the program, though the proposed bill never made it out of a Senate committee.

The budget amendment passed 78-55. The change had produced a vigorous debate in committee previously reported here. http://marylandreporter.com/page5505636.aspx

Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman has introduced legislation to end the legislative scholarships for each of the last four years, but the bills have never made it out of committee.