I’m not quite sure what to make of Question 1 on the Maryland ballot. And I’ve heard from friends and neighbors who have similar questions about the question.
Marylanders are being asked to vote on an amendment to the state constitution. If passed, the amendment would grant the General Assembly, Maryland’s legislative branch, greater power to change the annual state budget submitted by the governor.
“Under this proposed constitutional amendment, the General Assembly, beginning with the 2023 Legislative Session, would be authorized to increase or add funding in the operating budget, so long as the total level of funding approved by the General Assembly for the Executive Branch does not exceed the total level of funding proposed by the Governor for the Executive Branch,” a summary of the proposal states.
Currently, the governor submits a budget for legislative approval. The General Assembly may only cut funding. It cannot move the money around the various executive branch departments like transportation, education or natural resources.
“In approving the operating budget, the General Assembly may not increase or add funding for the Executive Branch, but it may increase funding for the Legislative and Judicial Branches. Except for expenditures required by the State Constitution, the General Assembly may decrease funding in the operating budget for each of the three branches of State government,” the summary states.
So to recap, the governor would submit a budget and the General Assembly could now freely move funding around executive branch departments.
Continuing on, the governor could then veto budget lines amended by the General Assembly. The General Assembly could then override the vetoes by a three-fifths majority. If the governor’s veto remains in place, the line item reverts back to what the governor initially proposed.
The measure calling for the ballot question passed the state Senate earlier this year 30-15. All 15 “nay” votes came from Republicans. Likewise in the House of Delegates, the measure passed 95-39 with primarily Republican opposition.
Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A-Dorchester, is the only member of the Eastern Shore’s General Assembly delegation to vote in favor of putting the question on the ballot.
When you look at this measure, the question that sticks out for me is, “Why now?” The easiest answer is, “politics.” Maryland has a two-term Republican governor and a legislature that has been under control by Democrats for decades.
Here’s an added wrinkle though, Republican Larry Hogan is termed out of office in 2023 when the measure would take effect.
Generally, I favor greater oversight on how our taxes are used. If we lived in a perfect world of governmental altruism, I would back this measure completely.
By the same token, I am not advocating that voters say “no” to Question 1 when they cast their ballots. I fully admit to equivocating on this matter.
And here’s why: I live on the Shore. Our General Assembly delegation — between both chambers — comprises 16 members from nine counties.
Baltimore City residents have a 22-member delegation advocating for them. Prince George’s County residents have 23 General Assembly members representing their county alone. Montgomery County’s delegation boasts 32 members for a single county.
Here in the 36th District, state Sen. Steve Hershey represents four counties.
Now, I recognize that the apportionment of legislators is based on population. I do not question or criticize that. It is how it should be. Each person should be entitled to equal representation in the legislature.
But the Shore has an added challenge in that voters here tend to elect Republicans — the minority party in the General Assembly and frequently the opposition party of the governor.
We still have needs on the Shore that must be addressed in the state budget, but that leaves our small delegation fighting an already uphill battle. To get the funding the Shore needs in the current budget process is at root convincing one person — the governor — to include it. To open that up to the General Assembly adds a whole lot more people, personalities and power dynamics to the mix.
Think about decades-long calls to widen dangerous state Route 404. Think about the fight for a J-turn at the intersection of U.S. Route 301 and state Route 304. Think about how long it took to get a new Dover Bridge connecting Talbot and Caroline counties when the previous one would get stuck in the open position. Think about the loss of the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown under the previous governor, a Democrat. Think about what that meant for mental health care here.
I honestly do not have a recommendation on how to vote on Question 1. For me, it is a question of policy and practice, budgetary oversight and political power. But hopefully, I’ve at least offered some insight into questions you may have on Question 1.
Email Divilio at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel