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 though 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.

Delegates and senators from Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado and other states ooh-ed and aah-ed 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 former 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.

Governor's Bass Award

The competition must have been heavy, because the Maryland Bass Federation waited 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 2,250-acre Chapman's Forest on 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," said Butch Ward, president of the federation.

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 new 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 now are required to wear seat belts.