Howard County's state legislative contingent arrived in Annapolis this week with a new look and uncertain prospects as the state's largest Republican-majority delegation in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

The county's legislative delegation changed its partisan stripe in November when voters elected three new Republicans to state office, producing a six-to-three GOP majority where once Democrats held a similar edge.

"We would be the only delegation with a majority of Republicans if it weren't for Garrett County" in the northwestern corner of the state, said House Minority Whip Robert H. Kittleman (R). "Garrett County has only one Republican senator and one Republican delegate."

Kittleman said the county's new Republican-leaning delegation will be quicker to question Democratic initiatives, helping "the man on the street understand the issues better."

"We're beginning to build a two-party system in the state. And everyone will benefit from that," he said.

An effective two-party system will take time to build, Kittleman said. He noted that the legislature's Democratic leadership didn't give county Republicans all the committee assignments they sought this year.

Still, Kittleman said, the political jockeying shouldn't cost Howard County any money this year because there "probably will be less pork to go around than at any time in the last decade. No one's going to get much, if any at all."

Also, he said, "The roads and schools people are very good about looking at the needs across the state and dividing the money appropriately."

If the county loses anything, said Sen. Thomas Yeager (D), "it will possibly be the good relationship {then-County Executive Elizabeth} Bobo had with Governor {William Donald} Schaefer. We will probably miss that more than anything else."

The county's prospects at the hand of the Democratic majority concerns Del. John S. Morgan (R). "We're going to be out there in right field" as minority Republicans, he said. "Howard County is going to face some problems because of partisan difficulties."

Morgan and fellow freshman Del. Martin G. Madden (R) hope to build their clout. "Your real power as a representative is in the committees where you are one of a small group considering legislation," Madden said.

Much of the delegation's work this year will be defensive. Howard County, as other counties and cities throughout the state, will be on guard to protect its share of state revenue as legislators wrestle with reducing the state's deficit. It also will seek to protect its interests as Maryland considers statewide growth controls.

"I think this will be the year of the proposed tax increase. And I highlight the word 'proposed,' " said Del. Robert Flanagan (R), who secured a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. "We'll probably spend as much time talking about taxes as we will anything else."

Aside from money and growth, the county's legislative agenda is small. County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) has asked for authority to impose impact fees on development and a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel stays.

The Howard County Arts Council, meanwhile, is asking the state to pay half of the $500,000 cost of renovating the Howard County Arts Center north of Ellicott City. Ecker has agreed to seek county funding for the other half, but Sen. Charles Smelser (D) said the request might not fly unless private donations can be found to pay some of the costs.

Smelser's opinion is considered important because he chairs a capital projects subcommittee that likely would review the request.

With relatively few county-backed bills to worry about, delegates will be free to concentrate on their own initiatives.

For instance, Del. Virginia Thomas (D), who has been appointed vice chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, said she is eyeing legislation to expand recycling. Yeager said he wants to try again to win support for legislation that would extend child-neglect laws to drug-addicted women who pass on their addiction to their babies during pregnancy. A similar bill last year passed the Senate but failed in the House because it would cost about $3.5 million to implement, Yeager said.

Morgan and Madden have said they will carry out a campaign pledge to introduce legislation to prohibit County Council members from voting on zoning matters involving their campaign contributors.

Several County Council members have opposed the bill, saying the contributions do not influence their actions. They also said the delegation should take care of ethics concerns in the legislature first before tying the locals' hands.

New Sen. Christopher J. McCabe (R) said he is eager to weigh in on legislation to revise state campaign-financing laws. McCabe made reform of politicial action committee spending a theme in his campaign.

Madden also said he will introduce a bill to restrict smoking in Baltimore's new baseball stadium, which is scheduled to open next year.