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Lawmakers lament scholarship issue STATE HOUSE REPORT


When it comes to their one-of-a-kind scholarship program, Maryland state legislators can't "win for losing," Sen. Leo E. Green complained yesterday.

First, the media keep beating them up over the $7 million program by calling it a perk of political office, the senator said.

Second, reporters keep singling out -- unfairly in his view -- those cases in which senators award college scholarships to the children of campaign workers, party officials and wealthy constituents.

Mr. Green, D-Prince George's, was trying to persuade the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee to pass his bill reforming the scholarship program. But he made clear he feels the problem is not with the program. The problem, several senators agreed, is the news media.

The committee chairman, Sen. Clarence Blount, accused the press of whipping up the public on the issue. "If we do revise the program, we won't be crowned kings. They'll find something else to criticize," the Baltimore Democrat said.

The legislative scholarship program -- the only one of its kind nationally -- allows senators and delegates to distribute scholarships to constituents in almost any way they see fit.

The 47 senators each have $120,000 a year to dole out, while the 141 delegates have $10,000 a piece. The program accounts for one-fourth of the financial aid the state awards to college students. Nearly all of the rest is distributed by the State Scholarship Administration under a formula based on financial need.

Mr. Green's bill would turn over the legislative scholarships to the State Scholarship Administration, which would use guidelines for distribution that would be developed by lawmakers and educators.

His proposal loosely resembles another bill that swept through the House of Delegates Friday, except that the Green measure would specifically retain some aspects of the current system. The House bill is less detailed.

Under Mr. Green's proposal, the money would continue to be distributed equally around the state, and senators could still take credit for awards in their districts, he said.

The public interest group Common Cause has claimed that senators curry favor with voters by dispensing the awards, and argues that legislators should not be involved in handing out tax dollars to constituents.

Mr. Green denied getting any political benefit from the program, as did Chairman Blount.

"I don't know how anyone can say it is politically advantageous," Mr. Blount said.

Mr. Blount and several senators said they did a better job of awarding money than the nonpolitical State Scholarship Administration, which they accused of being inept and impersonal.

Moreover, Mr. Blount worried that blacks would lose out if that agency distributed the awards.

At least with senatorial scholarships, he said, black senators make sure that black students are treated fairly.

The committee also heard testimony on a separate reform bill that would turn the scholarships over to local school boards and community colleges.

That bill's sponsor, Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, told the committee that he too had been unfairly criticized for awarding two scholarships to a family that earned $172,000.

The awards were fair, he said, because the parents had three children in college and their income had been boosted $90,000 by the one-time sale of some property.

"I'm sorry it has put a black eye on everyone else," he said.

Mr. Blount said he did not know when his committee would take up the House scholarship bill.

"If that bill passes, it is going to have some good amendments on it," he said, without further explanation.

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