THE MARYLAND General Assembly is scrapping over scrap. At issue is a unique bounty program launched several years ago to get thousands of abandoned cars out of the roads and fields and clear out the auto junkyards that used to litter the state. The junked cars, including some memorable heaps of hulks near Baltimore, had piled up because the scrap-metal market was depressed. To stinulate the industry, the state in 1970 began paying auto wreckers and scrap processors $16 for every vehicle with Maryland tags that was destroyed. The program is financed, appropriately, by a $1 addition to the motor vehicle titling fee, so that everyone registering a vehicle in Maryland pays a "burial charge" in advance.
The bounties have helped a lot. From mid-1970 through this February, scrap processors destroyed 332,959 cars for which they received bounties of more than $3.4 million. A large stimulus, though, has been the market price of scrap, which rose from about $30 per ton in 1970 to $100 per ton in 1974 and is around $75 per ton now. It's not surprising that the processors have been squashing cars recently at a very rapid clip.
But it is expensive for taxpayers - and needlessly so, in our view, when the scrap market is sufficiently buoyant to do without subsides. So we would argue that under present conditions, the bounties are superfluous and should be stopped. They can easily be resumed if scrap prices should sink and auto hulks start piling up again. Meanwhile, the $850,000 or so per year could be used for other transportation needs. The House of Delegates agrees, and this week voted 102-4 to scrap the subsidies. Last month, however, Baltimore Sen. Harry McGuirk persuaded the Senate to continue the payments unless the state motor vehicle administrator decides to stop them. That, in a word, is a cop-out. The Senate, on reflection, should go along with the House's more forthright approach.