Gov. Larry Hogan is making a last-minute push to convince people to vote against a proposal to give state lawmakers more say in Maryland’s budget.
One of the Republican governor’s political groups, the Change Maryland Action Fund, launched a campaign this week against the statewide Question 1 on the ballot as early voting got underway.
Change Maryland has an anti-Question 1 website featuring a video of Hogan calling the proposal “a blatant cash and power grab” by state lawmakers who are “career politicians.”
The website solicits donations for the cause.
A spokesman for Change Maryland declined Tuesday to say how much money it would spend on the campaign. As a nonprofit political organization, Change Maryland Action Fund’s latest filing with the IRS reports raising $58,000 and spending $175,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30.
Hogan announced his opposition a week ago to Question 1, but launched the campaign Monday on the afternoon of the first day of eight days of early voting. By the end of Monday, more than 1.1 million Marylanders had already voted early, between in-person voting and mailed ballots.
Hogan also made his pitch in an interview Tuesday on WBAL-AM. He said the measure is among “close to 200 bills” that have been proposed to curtail the governor’s power since he took office in January 2015.
“They don’t like the idea that we have checks and balances, but the voters do like it,” Hogan said.
Currently, Maryland’s governor has strong control over the state’s budget. Once the budget is proposed by the governor, state lawmakers review it, but can only cut items. They cannot move money from one area to another.
Question 1 on the ballot would give lawmakers the ability to shuffle money around within the budget, so long as it doesn’t exceed the total set by the governor. The governor would have line-item veto authority over each change, and lawmakers would have an opportunity to override such vetoes by holding a special legislative session.
If the voters approve the change in the Nov. 3 election, it would go into effect in the next governor’s term.
The measure floated around Annapolis for years and was variously supported by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. It gained traction this year when Democrats in the General Assembly decided to send the question to voters.
Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, both Democrats, are among those backing Question 1. So are the League of Women Voters and the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, which has advocated for progressive tax and budget policies.
Proponents say that Maryland’s governor has the strongest budget power in the nation, and by allowing lawmakers greater involvement, the legislators could better represent the wishes of Marylanders.
Lawmakers say they would avoid perennial fights with the governor, including over bills that mandate the governor fund certain programs in the future.
Lawmakers have also been frustrated when Hogan has, in some years, declined to spend funds they have “fenced off” for programs they designate. That’s a method legislators have employed because they can’t reassign money they’ve cut from the budget. Instead, they set it aside and instruct the governor that in order to spend it, he or she can only use it for certain programs.
Because the governor would still set the total amount of the budget, proponents say there would be no worry about legislative overspending, which was the reason the current budgeting process was established about 100 years ago.
Hogan argues that to ensure there’s not a return to a “runaway, uncontrolled, unchecked legislature,” voters should vote against Question 1.
Question 1 is also opposed by many Republican lawmakers, including Republican senators who said in a statement last week: “This is simply a case of Democrats trying to change the rules now that they have been forced to work within a true two-party system.”