ANNAPOLIS – Voters won’t be deciding whether to grant legislators more power in crafting the budget this fall.
A constitutional amendment was killed in the Senate Friday when it fell two votes short, 27 to 19, of the necessary three-fifths vote to pass.
The amendment would have let voters decide if lawmakers could do more than just cut from the governor’s budget.
Under the bill, and with voter approval, lawmakers would have been able to add funds and shift program money in the governor’s budget as long as they stayed within the proposed total for spending.
The measure would have given the governor more power – a line- item veto – but would have granted lawmakers the final say with the ability to overturn the veto.
Maryland is the only state not to grant its Legislature such powers.
With a looming $1.2 billion 2004 deficit under the governor’s plan and many programs underfunded in this year’s budget, such as Medicaid and mental health, some senators said the current budget- writing process was flawed.
Still they worried the change would grant too much power to legislative leaders in charge of the budget.
There needs to be an agreement on the rules to assuage senators’ concerns, said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County.
Budget czars will take over – those who speak the loudest and have the most drinks with those in power, said Sen. Jennie Forehand, D- Montgomery.
“I’d rather take my chances with the person upstairs,” she said.
Now lawmakers must negotiate with the governor to get their districts’ needs added to the budget.
While some favored this process, bill supporters said it gave too much power to the governor.
It’s like playing rock, paper and scissors but only being able to throw out the scissors, said Sen. Patrick Hogan, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor.
“If you don’t have adequate power, you can’t have a meaningful negotiation with the other party,” said Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D- Baltimore County.
Other senators said the measure would be too burdensome to work out.
Gathering meaningful input from 188 General Assembly members would be too difficult, said Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, D- Baltimore. Perhaps it would be possible if Maryland’s were a full-time Legislature, he said.
Lawmakers who supported the measure were frustrated with the lack of trust senators expressed in their colleagues.
“People feel they have a better shot with the governor than with their colleagues,” Hogan said.
The bill is likely to be submitted again in future sessions, Hogan said, but he was unsure how to secure its passage.
It’s not about the economy, it’s about philosophical differences on the balance of power, he said.