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Senate OKs budget bill

March 10, 2004|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - After failing twice under a Democratic administration, a measure to weaken the governor's budget power won tentative approval from the Maryland Senate on Tuesday.

If approved by the House of Delegates, the issue will go on the ballot in November for voters to decide whether it should become a constitutional amendment.

Maryland's governor has more power than any other governor in the country when it comes to the budget.

Under a system in place since 1916, the governor writes the budget and the Maryland General Assembly can only make cuts.

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The proposed amendment would allow the legislature to shift money from one area to another while keeping the bottom line the same.

It also would give the governor a line-item veto that could be overridden by a special session of the legislature, which typically meets for 90 days.

During Parris Glendening's administration, the proposed constitutional amendment was voted down twice on the Senate floor.

At that time, most Republicans supported the measure, complaining they were shut out of the budget process with a Democrat in the governor's mansion.

Now that Republican Robert L. Ehrlich is in control of the budget, many of the GOP members switched sides. Likewise, Democrats who previously voted against the measure supported it Tuesday.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, was one of the few senators whose position remained the same. He voted in favor of the legislation all three times.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, and Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, voted against the bill after they had voted for it twice under Glendening.

Hafer said eight years of spending under the last administration has made him fearful of giving more budget power to the legislature.

Other opponents argued that it will cause special interest groups to overwhelm the legislature with budget requests.

"Under this bill we would all become budget directors," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil/Harford. "It's going to be a nightmare and it's going to be a nightmare we don't need."

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the bill, said every other state in the country gives the legislature the power to move money in the budget.

He compared it to the game of rock, paper and scissors.

"We only have one of those. We only have scissors," he said.

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