By Adam Pagnucco.
Governor Larry Hogan is hopping mad about Question 1, a statewide constitutional amendment on the ballot that would curtail some of his massive budget powers. That’s understandable – any politician (and most of the rest of us) would be upset about having any of our powers taken away. But Hogan’s critique of Question 1 has careened into the territory of outright lies and he deserves to be exposed.
Question 1 has its roots in a state budget crisis way back in 1915. In those days, the state government was considerably less professional than it is now. In Fiscal Year 1915, the state ran up a general fund deficit of $1.4 million. That was pretty bad considering that the state recorded revenues of just $12.1 million.
The crisis resulted in the incorporation of an executive budget system into the state’s constitution, which gives the governor enormous powers to set the operating budget. The General Assembly is prevented from adding to or rearranging the governor’s proposed operating budget under most circumstances. The legislature can cut certain items from the governor’s budget and also fence off money, designating it for use only under certain circumstances. The governor can release the money for those purposes or save it. Over the years, the General Assembly got around the restrictions by mandating future funding for some items through statute (especially education). But in an operating budget for an upcoming fiscal year, the governor – any governor – has awesome power which dwarfs the ability of the legislature to check it.
No other state gives such budgetary authority to its governor.
In the past, the governor and the General Assembly lived with each other by negotiating (to an extent) what would appear in the governor’s budget. But Hogan and the current General Assembly tend not to negotiate with each other all that nicely. Last spring, General Assembly Democrats got fed up and passed SB 1028, a constitutional amendment that would junk the executive budget system and balance budgetary power between the governor and the General Assembly. That is now Question 1 on this year’s ballot. Here is the exact language of Question 1.
(Ch. 645 of the 2020 Legislative Session)
State Budget Process
The proposed amendment authorizes the General Assembly, in enacting a balanced budget bill for fiscal year 2024 and each fiscal year thereafter, to increase, diminish, or add items, provided that the General Assembly may not exceed the total proposed budget as submitted by the Governor.
(Amending Article II Section 17 and Article III Sections 14 and 52 of the Maryland Constitution)
Additionally, the bill creating Question 1 grants the governor authority to veto any line items added by the General Assembly to executive departments. Furthermore, the bill makes clear that the changes will take effect in Fiscal Year 2024, after Hogan has left office.
Hogan despises this constitutional amendment and set up a website to oppose it. The website says, “Question 1 would upend the Maryland constitution to give career politicians in the legislature unchecked power over the budget, denying governors the chance to hold them accountable and to protect taxpayers.”
Hogan also made this video in which he claimed that Question 1 would lead to higher taxes.
Here’s the lie: Question 1 does not give the General Assembly “unchecked power over the budget.” The very language of the amendment makes clear that the legislature “may not exceed the total proposed budget as submitted by the Governor.” That means the governor still gets to set a budget ceiling that the legislature cannot exceed. Furthermore, the bill gives the governor line item veto authority over appropriations for state departments. What the bill actually does is establish a balance of power between the governor and the General Assembly that resembles the arrangement in most other states.
If Hogan wants to make an honest argument against Question 1, he can claim that the current system has worked well enough over the past century and has prevented a recurrence of the kind of budget crisis that it was designed to stop. But it’s a lie to say that it will result in higher taxes when the governor still gets to set a budget ceiling.
Readers, please take this into account when voting on Question 1.