By Rolando Garcia
ANNAPOLIS – A group of lawmakers wants to curb the governor’s vast budget power and is proposing a constitutional amendment to allow the General Assembly to move funds within the budget.
The move reignites a long-standing struggle between the Assembly and a governor who wields greater constitutional authority than almost any other state executive.
Under the present system, the Assembly can only cut spending. If the Assembly wants to increase funding for a particular program, it must cut funding from another program and then suggest the governor reallocate the money to the favored program. If the governor agrees, he sends the Assembly a supplemental budget.
“There is too much power in the hands of one person,” said Patrick Hogan, D-Montgomery, the amendment’s sponsor. “This is a very modest change to bring a little bit of balance to the budget process.”
The process is cumbersome, Hogan said, because the supplemental budget often comes laden with other provisions the governor wants passed.
The amendment would allow the Assembly to change funding for line-items within the governor’s proposed budget, as long as total spending does not exceed the governor’s original request.
The amendment would bring Maryland in line with most other states where the Legislature can alter the governor’s proposed budget, Hogan said.
To be enacted, the amendment would need a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the Assembly and then be approved by voters.
The issue transcends party lines to pit the legislative branch against the executive branch, Hogan said. The measure has 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.
When the amendment was last introduced in 2002, it was opposed by then-Gov. Parris Glendening and fell two votes short in the Senate of the supermajority needed to pass. It never got to the House of Delegates.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, a co-sponsor, said some Republicans’ enthusiasm for the amendment may have waned with a Republican governor in office.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich opposes the amendment, said spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
To pass, the measure must not only overcome the governor’s opposition, but also the reluctance of some Assembly members to assume more budget responsibility, said Barbara Hoffman, former senator and advocate of the proposal.
“There are some who prefer not to have that power so they can say, ‘Gee, I would have loved to fund your project, but we couldn’t change the governor’s budget,'” Hoffman said. “It’s a good excuse.”
Some lawmakers are also fearful the amendment would invest too much budget authority within the Senate Budget and House Appropriations committees, Hoffman said.
While the governor could still veto the Assembly’s budget changes, the amendment would allow lawmakers to reconvene in special session to override those vetoes. Currently, only the governor can call the Assembly into special session.