ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County is finding it increasingly easy to get wishes granted by the Maryland General Assembly, at the same time Baltimore struggled this session to get 16 percent of the $49.7 million it requested for public schools.
Politically speaking, the city’s situation likely will only get worse.
Baltimore could lose 1.6 districts and see its political clout continue to diminish when new district maps are drawn after the 2000 census numbers are released, according to a Capital News Service analysis of Maryland Office of Planning and U.S. Census Bureau data.
Meanwhile, Montgomery’s influence should be solidified. It is expected to gain slightly, likely giving it the highest number of state representatives. Now Montgomery has or shares nine districts.
Southern Maryland counties also could gain, although some are saying not enough.
The Maryland Office of Planning recently released predictions for the upcoming changes in legislative districts, basing its numbers on population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau through 1998.
Montgomery gained more than 100,000 people in the last 10 years, which should translate to a gain of one-third of a district.
Southern Maryland counties all had population growth in excess of 20 percent, but Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s will not see more than an additional two-tenths of a district each, according to the planning office.
The Maryland Constitution requires redrawing district lines after each decennial Census to reflect population changes. The new districts must adjoin and be equal in population, but can cross county lines.
Ideally each district will contain 111,045 people, the planning office said. Legally, the district must come within 5 percent of that.
Declining political power should follow declining population – it’s only right, said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
“We want to see all Marylanders represented fairly,” he said.
Baltimore lost 110,814 people since the 1990 census – 15 percent of its population, according to estimates.
The estimates reinforce the trend seen in the 1990 census when, at that time, the city had nine districts within its borders. Heavy population losses dictated that the city should lose two districts.
In an attempt to protect the city, Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed, through his Redistricting Advisory Committee, to extend Baltimore’s districts into Baltimore County for the first time.
The plan created five shared city-county districts, three with a majority of city dwellers. Baltimore also retained five districts within its borders.
After the official population count is released in April 2001, Gov. Parris Glendening will map out new legislative districts, most likely through a task force similar to Schaefer’s.
Glendening must present his maps to the General Assembly no later than the first day of the legislative session in January.
The General Assembly could reject Glendening’s map and draw its own, but it must win approval by the session’s halfway point or the governor’s plan automatically goes into effect during the November election of that year.
Glendening’s maps will likely be drawn to favor Democratic candidates, Ellington said.
“We don’t need gerrymandering,” Ellington said referring to the process of redistricting that favors one party over the other.
Montgomery County should do well after census numbers are released, said Scott Reilly, director of the county’s Office of Planning Implementation.
Montgomery picked up 102,973 people since the last census, the greatest increase in population of any county in the state, according to estimates.
Calvert County also has seen a population boom, with an estimated 49 percent increase since 1990.
The county shares two districts: one with St. Mary’s and one with Prince George’s and Anne Arundel.
Jenny Plummer-Welker, from the Calvert Planning Office, said she has heard from some county residents that Calvert deserves its own representation.
With a projected population of 76,575, however, the county is still short of the district requirement.
The three counties of Southern Maryland all have seen notable population growth in the last 10 years. In addition to Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles have an estimated 21 percent and 21.5 percent growth, respectively.
A fair distribution of representation has to include more legislators for these, Ellington said, because “Southern Maryland has been under-represented for too long.”