On Maryland Question One, Vote “Against”

The Baltimore Sun has published my letter to the editor (disagreeing with the Sun’s position) in which I argue that Maryland voters should reject Question One, expanding the General Assembly’s power over the state budget.

Contrary to The Sun’s arguments, an “against” vote on Question 1 is the right vote for fiscal responsibility (“Question 1: Vote ‘for’ constitutional amendment on state budget authority,” Sept. 28). At present under the Maryland Constitution, the legislature can only cut items from the governor’s budget, not add or shift. Although unusual among state constitutions, that’s a rule that has long proved workable in county and other local government. Question 1 would authorize the assembly to add items to the state budget as long as overall changes plus and minus do not result in a sum exceeding the governor’s own proposed budget.

Politically, the consequence would be that a lot of people would start lobbying General Assembly members or running for the state legislature themselves, with the aim of raising spending on pet programs. Supposedly, the effects would still be fiscally neutral because something else would have to be traded off (highway maintenance is one guess) to pay for the goodies. But with the legislature converted into a much more ardently pro-spending body than it is now, that constraint might later be discarded too, enabling the legislature simply to add money to the governor’s proposals.

The Sun is right that the General Assembly has resorted to artificial and inefficient dodges to get around the current rule. But the answer there is to spotlight and rein in the artificial dodges. In the mean time, vote “against” on 1.

— Walter Olson, New Market

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