Two days after unveiling a plan to help the working poor, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) took it on the road, pitching it to a national audience at the Democratic Leadership Council conference in Baltimore.

It seemed as if Duncan was casting himself as national innovator on the subject, joining think-tankers from the Progressive Policy Institute and the Brookings Institution on a DLC panel to discuss "After Welfare Reform: Making Work Pay."

Just one thing: Duncan came to the issue in earnest only after County Council members started a debate about it. They proposed to more than double the minimum wage for employees who work for companies receiving county contracts or economic incentives.

Several members were privately galled that Duncan proposed a package of tax cuts and assorted subsidies as an alternative to the "living wage" bill, grumbling that it was more Duncan grandstanding on an issue that has captured Montgomery's imagination.

"The council is very happy Doug Duncan has been born again on the issue of the working poor," said Patrick Lacefield, the council's spokesman. A hearing on the living wage bill is scheduled for 7:30 tonight at the council hearing room in Rockville.

Delegates and senators from Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado and other states oohed and aahed as Duncan outlined his plan, which is pretty innovative, given that it calls for the first county-level earned income tax credit in the country.

Duncan also reaffirmed his call for Maryland legislators to increase the state earned income tax credit--now 10 percent of what poor families receive in their federal tax refund--to 50 percent. Montgomery, he said, would match the state refund dollar for dollar.

"It is the single most important anti-poverty tool we have," he told the seminar-style gathering.

The tax credit was hatched not by New Democrats at all, but by old Republicans. It started with President Richard M. Nixon and was expanded by presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Clinton, suggesting the ideological boundaries it has managed to cross.

Duncan said he will make increasing the state earned income tax credit part of his legislative package in the next General Assembly. He estimates it would cost the state $250 million a year and suggested that it should be phased in over several years.

Neas Raises Cash

In a show of his seriousness about a rematch in 2000, Democrat Ralph Neas has raised more than $100,000 for another campaign against Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), according to campaign finance disclosure forms for the first six months of this year.

Neas, who spent about $810,000 in an unsuccessful bid to oust Morella last year, reported raising $106,726 and had $103,581 left in cash on hand.

For the same period, Morella campaign Chairman Bill Miller said, the seven-term congresswoman from Bethesda had raised about $122,000 and has about $300,000 on hand.

At this time two years ago, Neas had not yet formally formed a campaign, while Morella entered the 1998 election cycle with about $200,000 in the bank.

Morella easily defeated Neas in November, winning 60 percent of 212,000 votes cast.

Governor's Bass Award

The competition must have been heavy, because the Maryland Bass Federation waited until seven months into 1999 to name its 1998 "Man of the Year." But we have the envelope now, and the winner is . . . Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), cited for protecting Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland and an expanse of woods along the Potomac River in Charles County.

"We feel that Governor Glendening went out on a limb to do what was right to protect the environment and our Potomac River bass fishery," federation President Butch Ward said.

Being environmentally concerned ourselves, we worry about that limb, though.

Extending Seat-Belt Law

A year ago, three people were killed in Montgomery County when a Subaru driven by a 16-year-old boy who had had his license for two weeks crossed the center line of East West Highway and crashed into two other vehicles. Two of those killed were passengers in the teenager's car. They were not wearing seat belts.

With that accident in mind, two Montgomery delegates, William A. Bronrott and Cheryl C. Kagan, both Democrats, will propose a seat-belt bill during next year's General Assembly session.

Under already tougher rules that took effect July 1, new drivers must have provisional licenses until they are 17 years, 7 months old. Adding to that, the Bronrott-Kagan bill would require all passengers in a car driven by a provisional license holder to wear a seat belt, whether they are sitting in the front or back seat. Only front-seat passengers are required to wear seat belts now.

Super Salaries

Jane B. Schuchardt, one of five members of the Howard County Board of Education, admits her jaw dropped a tad when she learned how much Montgomery County's new superintendent was going to make. "I was kind of overwhelmed by it," she said.

In Howard, which is in the middle of its own superintendent search, insiders already are moping that they may never find anyone they love as much as the deified Michael E. Hickey, not to mention someone who will stay the 15 or so years that has been the custom in the county.

So the realization that they'll have to pay that Not-Quite-Hickey lots more cash is salt on the wound.

But aspiring superintendents should blink the dollar signs out of their eyes before applying to Howard, which, after all, has one-third the students of Montgomery. A compensation package like the $300,000-plus Montgomery's Jerry Weast is getting "would be difficult for the community to accept," said board Vice Chairman Stephen C. Bounds. Schuchardt is more blunt: "I know we cannot come anywhere near that."

Board members say that they know full well that superintendents are pricier these days and that they're willing to pay substantially more than the $148,000 Hickey makes now. And they don't begrudge the incoming superintendent that.

"The superintendent is essentially a CEO of a substantial-sized company," Bounds said. "Look at what CEOs are paid in comparable businesses--far more than what we're paying superintendents. And CEOs don't have people writing letters to the editors, have to deal with politicians, press, parents and unions."

They hope, however, that their early start to the search--they began in January, and Hickey doesn't leave until next summer--will give them an edge. Unlike Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which selected a top choice and then negotiated salary, Howard officials plan to talk numbers with finalists while there are still two or three of them. That is, when the candidates still have an incentive to make themselves look as attractive--and hopefully, as affordable--as possible.

Delegate Goes National

State Del. Anne Healey (D-Prince George's) has been selected to serve on an oversight committee of the National Conference of State Legislators, a forum for lawmakers to exchange ideas and information.

She was appointed to a two-year term by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany).

Healey, a delegate since 1991 and the vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the appointment will allow her to play a key role in the development of major policy issues.

The group meets three times a year.

Staff writers Jackie Spinner and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.