It looks like one man stands between success or failure for the best chance ever to abolish Maryland's unnecessary and embarrassing legislative scholarship program. Unfortunately, he's a powerful man -- State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. -- and he supports the program.
Attempts to junk the scholarship scam have never progressed so far as the reform efforts of this General Assembly session. The House of Delegates has overwhelmingly passed a bill asking the state's Secretary of Higher Education to craft a non-political plan that would meet the needs of middle-income students currently receiving funds from the legislative program. Often these are students not affluent enough to afford the costs of many colleges, yet too well-off to qualify for financial aid.
The House bill will have a hearing today before the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. The Senate has always been the main obstacle to any reform efforts, but apparently a third of the senators are ready to kill the program while another third are on the fence. If the uncommitted senators were to come out for reform, a majority would be mustered. What had been unthinkable a few months ago would become reality.
Except, that is, for the whim of Mr. Miller. He is reported to have already arranged for the House bill not to reach the Senate floor. Publicly, he defends the scholarship program by saying it "has been in effect for over 100 years." What splendid logic. Potholes and sewage have been around for over 100 years, too, but you don't see many Annapolis pols standing up for them, do you?
Mr. Miller also states for the record that he opposes the House bill because it was approved as a vengeful response to the Senate's efforts to kill keno. While perhaps partly true, that argument overlooks how the political perk of the scholarship program has become a political liability in the public's eyes. At least the House seemed to realize that fact when it passed its bill last week.
We're afraid we understand what the Senate president's maneuvering is really about. He's savvy enough to know the scholarship program is doomed. So, he and many others in the Senate probably figure, why not wait to kill the program during the session of 1994 -- an election year -- and thereby reap maximum political points?
It figures the lawmakers would try to squeeze a last bit of advantage from a program they've long been abusing for political purposes, most egregiously in the Senate. Still, there's now a prime opportunity to put the scholarship scam to rest. Mr. Miller and his colleagues should act on it.