As we knock on doors in Baltimore City and County asking what issues are on the minds of voters, there is a common question: What are we doing to protect Maryland from the Trump administration?
That’s why we were surprised by the recent Sun editorial, Hogan v. Frosh, that makes the budget struggle between Gov. Larry Hogan and Attorney General Brian Frosh seem like a playground spat without real consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Budgets reflect values. When a president proposes dramatic increases the Defense Department’s budget, congressional power can serve as a counterbalance, as Congress has the power of the purse. Not so, here in Maryland.
Maryland’s governor has incredibly powerful budget-setting authority. This governor has repeatedly used this power to flout the will of the legislature by deliberately excluding from his budget funds for programs and policies we’ve enacted to help rebuild Baltimore neighborhoods, to provide after-school and summer programs for children, to protect sexual assault victims and to enhance the scope of the attorney general’s legal authority.
Last session, the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Maryland Defense Act, giving the attorney general broad, independent authority to sue the federal government. The new law mandates that the attorney general be provided with $1 million and five additional attorney positions for this purpose. Prior to this action, our attorney general had to ask the governor’s permission to sue the feds — a rarity among states.
This enhanced power is more important than ever. Rarely does a day pass without some new overreach by the Trump administration: rolling back regulations on the environment, reversing the Affordable Care Act’s cost sharing or promulgating a Muslim travel ban. Experience has demonstrated that lawsuits and the judiciary make up the seawall to the Trump administration’s tsunami of bad policy.
Like many other state agencies, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has experienced several reductions, resulting in a 6 percent cut since 2015. While it’s true that there are 36 “vacancies” in the office, these are either held vacant to meet budget demands set by the administration or they are in the process of being filled.
Some unfilled positions are funded by “special funds” and can only be used for specific work. This includes many of the positions in the Consumer Protection Division, responsible for protecting veterans, seniors and our most vulnerable citizens. This is the very division from which the governor suggested Mr. Frosh divert resources.
The OAG requested funds to fight the opioid epidemic to prosecute entities that share responsibility for the more than 2,400 individuals who have died from opioid–related deaths since 2015. We are perplexed as to why the governor wouldn’t want funds to go to the entity that can prosecute some of those responsible.
Pulling from other vacant positions would require redirecting resources from another already stretched division that prosecutes human trafficking, gangs and prison corruption.
In 2017, the General Assembly passed the Sexual Assault Victims Resources Act mandating up to $3 million for sexual assault programs and an attorney in the OAG to staff a new Maryland Sexual Assault and Evidence Policy and Funding Committee. The legislation passed unanimously — 185 legislators supported it— and was signed into law by the governor. This newspaper has featured stories about systemic flaws in our handling of sexual assault.
Comprised of health experts, law enforcement, legislators and advocates, the committee is making important policy recommendations on how to monitor and improve evidence collection and how to protect victims. The governor didn’t include the funds mandated for staff overseeing this important work in his budget, but he has responded to concerns expressed by the women's caucus, stating he will put the funds in a supplemental appropriation.
As the editorial said, the General Assembly can fence off funds — restricting the expenditure of funds for a purpose other than that for which they were budgeted, but we can’t require that the governor spend the funds. Remember — we tried this with K-12 education funding. And this year, we’ll have to put in, again, the community development and afterschool funds.
Yes, the cuts are modest in the context of the entire budget, but both the legislative and executive branches claim these programs as priorities. We'd like to respond to our constituents that both the legislature and the governor are doing everything within our power to fight the overreaches of the Trump administration. But it’s just not so. For the General Assembly, it’s a waste of time and energy that would be put to better use working — together with the governor — on tackling solutions to these important issues.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore City Democrat, is chair of the House Appropriations Committee; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Del. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee; her email is email@example.com.