By Rolando Garcia
ANNAPOLIS – Decrying what they say has become a “super-legislature,” some lawmakers want to curb the Board of Public Works’ authority to cut budgets approved by the General Assembly.
A bill sponsored by Delegate Galen Clagett, D-Frederick, would reduce the amount of spending the board is permitted to cut from Assembly-authorized budgets from 25 to 10 percent.
Last year after the Assembly adjourned, the panel, which consists of the governor, comptroller, and treasurer, slashed more than $200 million from the budget to close a budget shortfall. The move still rankles many lawmakers, who said they were frustrated by their lack of involvement in the cuts at a House Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday.
“What do we need a Legislature for when the board can unilaterally cut from the budget that we pass?” said Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery. “(Clagett’s bill) doesn’t go far enough.”
The board is charged with approving state construction projects and contracts and with imposing fiscal restraint by cutting spending the governor deems unnecessary.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich opposes the bill, and Jill Porter, legislative affairs director for the Department of Budget and Management, told the committee that it would hamstring the governor’s ability to meet his mandate to balance the budget.
Delegate Gail Bates, R-Howard, said the recent assault on the governor’s budget authority was a partisan maneuver by the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
“This looks like politics at its worst,” Bates said.
Franchot said if a fiscal crisis was so severe that cuts above 10 percent were necessary, the Legislature should be called into special session.
A bill sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman Norman Conway would require the board to provide at least a 30-day notice on proposed spending cuts and hold public hearings.
“We need to make the process more open,” Conway said.
Ehrlich, as well as Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, oppose the measure.
In a letter to lawmakers, Schaefer said delays in implementing budget cuts would result in even deeper reductions, and that the appropriate time for public input on the budget is during the legislative session.
Treasurer Nancy Kopp supports the notification and hearing requirements, proposals consistent with recommendations she made in the aftermath of the board’s controversial cuts last year, said Deputy Treasurer Howard Freedlander.
The committee quickly disposed of a bill proposed by Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, that would have required legislative approval for budget cuts undertaken by the governor after the legislative session. Conway informed Morhaim that the Attorney General’s office determined the measure was unconstitutional.