There is perhaps no better time for ethical reform in the General Assembly than now, when voters are disillusioned with politics and politicians, and the fiscal vice is tightening. A good place to start is the General Assembly's Scholarship program.
The program works this way: Each year, delegates and senators get a pot of cash to dole out to students who need assistance to go to college. In theory, that's fine. But politics has crept into the process. A 1988 study showed that lawmakers gave more than 2,000 grants to students from families with annual incomes over $50,000 -- sometimes to children of friends, relatives or the well-connected -- and overlooked 2,700 needy students, many of whom didn't even know about the scholarships.
It doesn't take a political scientist to figure out that the scholarship program has become a cash cow for lawmakers to dip into -- giving a couple of hundred here and a couple of hundred there to ensure loyalty, gratitude and re-election. Now, for the eighth time in the past decade, a bill to end this program will be introduced in the 1992 General Assembly. The legislation, sponsored by Del. Gerry Brewster, would keep the scholarship money intact, but would give a committee of community leaders, rather than lawmakers, the power to parcel it out.
It will be up an uphill battle to convince politicians to support this measure. But lawmakers always have a duty to spend state money responsibly, and in these hard times, when every dollar must be spent wisely and fairly, the political rhetoric traditionally used to defend this ludicrous setup is simply not going to wash.