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Legislators want more control of Md. budget

February 22, 2001

Legislators want more control of Md. budget



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


ANNAPOLIS - When Washington County wants state money for local projects such as a new minor league stadium or a Civil War museum, supporters must go to the governor.

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For the last 85 years, Maryland's governor has had total control over the state's operating budget. Legislators can't add items to the budget. They can only propose cuts.

But that process could change under a proposed constitutional amendment that got tentative approval from the Maryland Senate on Wednesday.

Under the change, lawmakers would be able to add items to the budget while observing a self-imposed spending cap.

The proposal is a long way from becoming law. First it needs the support of 60 percent of the Maryland General Assembly. The Senate could take a final vote as soon as Friday, but a House of Delegates committee is still reviewing the proposal.

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Some lawmakers said Gov. Parris Glendening is pressuring them to vote against the proposal and the budget power he wields will make it difficult to disagree.

"The very process that's going to make this bill tough to pass is the very problem we're trying to address, said Sen. Robert R. Neall, D-Anne Arundel.

If the proposal passes, voters would have to approve it through referendum.

Maryland is alone among the 50 states in giving total budgetary discretion to the governor, supporters of the amendment argue.

Under the amendment, the governor would still submit a proposed budget, but lawmakers could shift the money around to reflect their policy initiatives. The governor would have line-item veto power.

"This isn't about power. It's about balance. We've got to have a more meaningful role in setting fiscal policy," Neall said.

Similar proposals have been defeated 13 times over the years, most recently in 1994.

Supporters said it would give average citizens a bigger voice in the budget process because their representatives would speak for them.

Opponents argued that the governor is the only elected official who can see the "big picture" of the state's needs.

Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard/Prince George's, said lawmakers will be under increased pressure to enact tax increases to pay for the projects each wants to get in the budget.

Supporters argued the legislature would stick to its spending affordability and debt affordability limits.

Both Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, and Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, are co-sponsoring the proposal.

Munson said he hasn't been pressured by the governor's office and nothing could convince him to vote against the proposal.

"I was elected to do what's best for the people in my district and I'm going to do it, notwithstanding the governor. When I can't do that, I don't deserve to be a senator anymore," Munson said.

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