Republican Gov. Larry Hogan accused the Democrat-controlled General Assembly of disregarding his request to limit new spending, saying Tuesday that proposed legislation in Annapolis flies in the face of what voters want.
"This is completely unacceptable and it's the exact opposite of what our administration was sent here to accomplish," Hogan said during a news conference in Annapolis.
The governor said his office reviewed 85 bills and calculated that lawmakers were proposing more than $1 billion in new spending for next year.
"We simply cannot return to the practice of recklessly spending beyond our means and continually taxing people to death in order to pay for it," Hogan said.
Democrats responded that Hogan was mischaracterizing the legislative process.
"This is a man who's never held public office before," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. "There are 3,000 bills introduced each year and only a small amount are enacted into law. ... He's adding up bills that aren't going to pass."
Nevertheless, Hogan stepped up his recent criticism of legislative leaders, saying there's "a real disconnect" between them and the rest of Maryland. Pointing to his high approval numbers in recent polls, Hogan accused lawmakers of "ignoring more than two-thirds of Marylanders who believe that the state is on the right track and finally heading in the right direction."
Miller shrugged off the criticism. "He says that all the time and I keep telling him to focus on leadership and not polls," the Senate leader said.
The exchange came as Hogan called on lawmakers to pass his bill limiting spending mandates, which he called his "top priority of this legislative session."
However, the bill hit a snag when the Office of the Attorney General advised that a key provision of the measure is unconstitutional.
In a letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Assistant Attorney General David W. Stamper said a section of Hogan's legislation that would bar the General Assembly from passing legislation that would require new spending mandates to be accompanied by cuts to other required spending.
Stamper told lawmakers that the section interferes with the General Assembly's constitutional authority.
"In my view, such a limitation is invalid. It is a general rule that one legislature cannot limit the power of a subsequent legislature," he wrote.
The legislation is one of the centerpieces of Hogan's agenda this year. It underscores his argument that the legislature imposes too many spending requirements on the executive branch.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the Attorney General office is wrong.
"It's a cute argument but it doesn't hold up," Mayer said. The General Assembly has previously passed many budget-related bill including similar provisions, he said.
The attorney general's advice might not be critical because the entire bill is considered unlikely to pass the Democratic-dominated legislature.
Less than an hour after Hogan delivered his lecture, the House Appropriations Committee began grilling Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley over the governor's proposal to curb mandates.
Brinkley argued that Hogan's bill, which would relieve the governor of the duty to comply with most spending mandates in times when revenues are down or stagnant, would provide a "slight course correction" to a broken budget process.
The legislation exempts four current mandates — basic K-12 education to the localities, the annual payment into the state employees' pension plan, the state contribution to the Rainy Day Fund and debt service. Apart from those, mandates that require a certain level of spending on such things as community colleges and compensation for service providers to people with developmental disabilities could be cut by the governor if revenue did not grow by 2 percent.
The long-standing practice in Annapolis is that when revenue falls short, the governor submits legislation known as the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act — known as the BRFA (pronounced "burfa") — to balance the budget.
Typically, the BRFA includes permission for the governor to fall short of meeting some mandates in a given year. It's a process that gives lawmakers negotiating power they would not have without mandates, which they see as their counter to the governor's unusually strong budget power under the Maryland Constitution.
Brinkley, formerly a delegate and senator, was quickly reminded that the legislature guards its prerogatives as jealously as the governor. Democratic delegates demanded to know what was wrong with requiring the governor to negotiate with lawmakers.
"What exactly are we solving with this bill?" said Del. Aruna Miller, a Montgomery County Democrat. "Is this a solution in search of a problem?"
Brinkley countered that BRFA bills had spun out of control, sometimes including tax increases introduced behind closed doors late in the session.
"The BRFA has become so large that it's gone beyond the scope of its original purpose," he said. "It's a malignancy that continues to grow."
Democratic Del. Kirill Reznik, also of Montgomery County, suggested the governor was seeking power at the General Assembly's expense.
"What's the role of the legislature in the budget process as this administration sees it?" Reznik asked.
Brinkley was followed to the witness chair by opponents of the bill who urged lawmakers to keep the current process.
"It allows for an appeal, and through the appeal process we have been successful in having money restored," said Bernard J. Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.
An earlier version misspelled Assistant Attorney General David W. Stamper's name. The Sun regrets the error.