Mea­sure would shift bud­get power

Pro­posal calls for al­low­ing leg­is­la­tors to move funds es­tab­lished by gover­nor

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood


Mary­land vot­ers are be­ing asked to con­sider giv­ing more bud­get power to state law­mak­ers, up­end­ing more than a cen­tury of gov­er­nor­con­trolled bud­gets.

Ques­tion 1 on the bal­lot pro­poses an amend­ment to the Mary­land Con­sti­tu­tion that would al­low state sen­a­tors and del­e­gates to move money around within a gover­nor’s pro­posed state bud­get — pro­vided they keep the bud­get bal­anced and don’t go over the to­tal amount set by the gover­nor.

In re­turn, the change would give the gover­nor the abil­ity to veto any ad­di­tion or in­crease that law­mak­ers made to the bud­get, which this year to­tals nearly $48 bil­lion.

The leg­is­la­ture would have to hold a spe­cial ses­sion within 30 days of such a veto to vote to re­store any spend­ing.

If passed, the change would tilt the bal­ance of power in An­napo­lis, where gov­er­nors and law­mak­ers have peren­ni­ally tus­sled over spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

Pro­po­nents say the shift would give law­mak­ers power that most peo­ple think they al­ready have; op­po­nents say the cur­rent sys­tem works well.

“It’s an author­ity most peo­ple as­sume we al­ready have be­cause it’s so com­mon,” said Del. Marc Kor­man, a Mont­gomery County Demo­crat who is one of the lead­ing pro­po­nents of the change.

Mary­land is the only state in the na­tion where law­mak­ers are only al­lowed to cut from the gover­nor’s pro­posed bud­get but can’t move money around, ac­cord­ing to sup­port­ers of the ref­er­en­dum. They say Mary­land’s gover­nor has the strong­est bud­get pow­ers in the coun­try.

Del. Nic Kipke says the cur­rent sys­tem doesn’t need chang­ing, be­cause it forces law­mak­ers to work with a gover­nor to get money for their pri­or­i­ties in the bud­get.

“With­out the gover­nor hav­ing that strength in the bud­get process, it re­duces the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the leg­is­la­ture and the ex­ec­u­tive,” said Kipke, an Anne Arun­del Repub­li­can who is the House of Del­e­gates mi­nor­ity leader. “It makes it lop­sided, where the leg­is­la­ture has too much power.”

The change, if ap­proved, would not af­fect the cur­rent gover­nor, Repub­li­can Larry Hogan. It would go into ef­fect start­ing with the next gover­nor, who will be elected in 2022. Term lim­its hold Mary­land gov­er­nors to a max­i­mum of two, fouryear terms, so Hogan can’t run again.

Through a spokesman, the gover­nor de­clined to com­ment on Ques­tion 1.

The pro­posal has bounced around An­napo­lis for decades, and has been sup­ported by both Democrats and Repub­li­cans at times, though this year’s push came from Democrats.

P.J. Hogan spon­sored the same amend­ment mul­ti­ple times when he was a state se­na­tor in the 1990s and early 2000s, as both a

Demo­crat and Repub­li­can. Now a lob­by­ist and mem­ber of the state elec­tions board, he tes­ti­fied for the change in the 2020 leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

“It has never been a par­ti­san is­sue for me,” said Hogan, who is not re­lated to the gover­nor. “I viewed it pre­vi­ously, and still view it, as good gover­nance and the bal­ance of power be­tween the co­equal branches of gov­ern­ment.”

The cur­rent setup has been in place since 1916, af­ter state law­mak­ers over­spent the state’s ac­counts sig­nif­i­cantly, cre­at­ing a deficit. The state had to bor­row money to pay it off, P.J. Hogan said.

While the re­forms en­acted then en­sure a bal­anced bud­get, it has cre­ated other prob­lems, he said. Chief among them is an an­nual fight over what’s known in An­napo­lis as “fenced off ” money.

If law­mak­ers find ar­eas of the bud­get to cut, they can’t move it to an­other area. They can only set it aside and in­struct the gover­nor that to spend it, he or she must fund a cer­tain pro­gram the law­mak­ers have des­ig­nated.

But the gover­nor can opt not to spend some or all the “fenced off” money, fre­quently lead­ing to squab­bles be­tween gov­er­nors and law­mak­ers. Last year, for ex­am­ple, the gover­nor de­clined to spend hun­dreds of mil­lions in fenced off funds, in­clud­ing money that law­mak­ers wanted to di­vert to test­ing rape kits and boost­ing the fi­nan­cially strug­gling Baltimore Sym­phony Or­ches­tra.

Since law­mak­ers have lit­tle say in the state bud­get, they also have taken to pass­ing laws that re­quire gov­er­nors to put cer­tain money in fu­ture bud­gets, known as spend­ing man­dates. Gov. Hogan has com­plained that more than 80% of the bud­get is spent on man­dates, leav­ing him lit­tle room to work with.

Sup­port­ers of the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment be­lieve that if law­mak­ers are given a more author­ity to re­al­lo­cate spend­ing, there may be fewer fights over fenced-off money and fewer bills passed that re­quire fu­ture spend­ing.

“It’s Democ­racy 101,” said

Sen. Jim Ros­apepe, a Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat who spon­sored the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment this year. “We don’t have a king. We have a gover­nor and a leg­is­la­ture and a judicial branch. The leg­isla­tive branch rep­re­sents peo­ple from across the state, dif­fer­ent con­stituen­cies, dif­fer­ent back­grounds. Those peo­ple should have a voice in how the state’s tax money is spent.”

The prospects of the amend­ment’s suc­cess are un­known; there has been no public polling on the is­sue and there are no or­ga­nized cam­paigns for or against it.

It’s un­clear why the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment moved for­ward this year af­ter fail­ing so many times be­fore. Some at­tribute the mo­men­tum to new lead­ers in the House and Se­nate or an in­flux of pro­gres­sive mem­bers.

The cal­en­dar may have played a role: By send­ing this ques­tion to vot­ers this year, vot­ers are de­cid­ing on a pol­icy change sep­a­rate from pick­ing the first gover­nor who would have to grap­ple with it.

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