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editorial - mail - 2/23/01

February 23, 2001

There's no room for failure when defying the governor



In what may be the most important action of the Maryland General Assembly's 2001 session, a group of lawmakers has proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would strip the governor's office of its near-total control of the state's budget. The problem is, the power they seek to trim is the one that may be used against them.

Alone among the 50 states, Maryland gives its governor such sweeping budget authority. Lawmakers can cut the budget the governor submits, but they can't add what's been cut to projects they'd rather see funded. If they want something for their district, they must make a deal with the governor. And those who don't deal sometimes get nothing.

Attempts to change this system have failed 13 times over the years, most recently in 1994, but this year the bill may have a better chance of succeeding, for a couple of reasons.

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The first is that the governor brought in a budget that exceeded the legislature's spending affordability limits, even though there are signs the economy is headed for a slowdown. Lawmakers remember all too well what happened during the administration of Gov. William D. Schaefer when revenues suddenly dipped. Nobody wants a repeat of that financial train wreck.

The second reason this move may succeed is that there are a number of road-building projects sought by local governments that have no chance of being built as long as Gov. Parris Glendening's "Smart Growth" program is backed by the governor's budget authority. Some lawmakers would like a little more leverage than they have now.

For Western Maryland, the change would increase the chances of bringing home additional state dollars, provided the region's lawmakers could get key slots on the committees handling the money.

The downside is that if the effort falls flat, Glendening may punish those who tried to make such a change for the rest of his term. Local lawmakers backing the measure, including state Sens. Don Munson and Alex Mooney, must work as hard as possible to make sure it doesn't fail.

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