WITH A $1 billion-plus budget surplus and perhaps as many ideas for how to spend it, the Maryland General Assembly convenes today. How much to spend, how much to save and how much to give back--those are the principal questions. The odds look good for all three options. But before too many lawmakers rally behind a faster, fatter tax cut, the state has some one-time road and school projects to consider--and they won't come cheap. Programs aimed at the state's poor, including health care coverage, also are sound investments.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has a proposal to raise new transportation funds. He would devote a portion of the state's sales tax to mass transit. It would begin at one-tenth of one cent of every five-cent sales charge; each year for the next nine, an additional one-tenth would be earmarked. At one full cent, the yield would be about $500 million a year. The result: a bigger pot of money for balanced transportation.

Ultimately the common transportation needs of this area should be addressed by a regional transportation authority similar to the Metro partnership. That federal-state-local arrangement had to overcome great financial and political odds, but it worked. Bills to create a working coalition will be introduced in Annapolis and Richmond and ought to be approved.

On guns, Gov. Glendening is preparing legislation based on a task force recommendation that all handguns sold after Jan. 1, 2003, be equipped with available technological improvements that would allow only authorized users to fire them. Look for technological "can't-do" talk from the any-gun-bill-is-a-bad-bill lobbyists and rough sledding in committees. But this is a reasonable proposal.

Ethics questions continue to need legislative attention. One proposal, pressed by Speaker Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller after new problems arose this year, would ban direct legislator-lobbyist business deals. On this subject, too, "can't-do" excuses are popping up from some lawmakers who fear that such a law would forbid almost any contacts or joint charitable ventures. But the mutual lining of pockets through outside business deals should be forbidden.