By State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)
Over the past several weeks, people have asked questions about the state's budget process? They ask how the Governor can cut the budget while the General Assembly is not in session and with only the approval of the Board of Public Works.
When the 2009 General Assembly adjourned in April, a balanced $13 billion state budget was approved. The state constitution demands that the budget be balanced. The budget must also be balanced periodically when the General Assembly is not in session.
Within weeks after adjournment, the state began feeling the economic decline in the form of rising unemployment and shrinking revenue returns. People's needs were increasing. But the state money to meet those needs was decreasing. Projections showed that the state would be facing a $700 million budget deficit when the 2010 General Assembly convened in January 2010.
On July 22, The Board of Public Works approved unanimously $280 million in budget cuts urged by the Governor. Those cuts involved nearly every area of the budget, including health care and higher education.
With no let up in rising needs and shrinking revenue, the Governor has told county officials to brace for $250 million in cuts in state aid for local health services, police departments, community colleges and road maintenance to once again balance the state budget. The reductions in state aid to local government, which accounts for more than 40% of the state's budget, will be proposed formally at the end of August. The total cut the Governor will request is $470 million. There's little doubt that they will be approved by the Board of Public Works.
The Board of Public Works, an important agency of the Executive Branch, is comprised of the Governor, the Comptroller and the State Treasurer. Both the Governor and the Comptroller are elected by the citizens of Maryland. The State Treasurer, elected by the General Assembly, represents the Assembly on the Board. The Board approves all sums expended through state loans, most capital improvements and the sale, lease or transfer of all real property owned by the State. The Board is also the body that approves budget cuts when the Assembly is not in session.
It should be noted that the budget powers given to the Board are the same as those given to the General Assembly. The Board can only approve budget cuts recommended by the Governor. The only power the General Assembly has in budget negotiations is that it can cut the budget. Neither the Board nor the Assembly can add funds to the budget or even move funds around from one priority to another.
Maryland is unique among states. It has an Executive Budget. Unlike most states, the Legislature is deprived of a significant voice in shaping budget priorities and thus the people are deprived of a voice in shaping the budget. The budget of Maryland is a one-man show, devoid of significant checks and balances.
The current policy was adopted in 1917 when the state was in a financial crisis and faced a $2 million deficit. We now have a balanced budget requirement, adopted in 1974, which makes the need for complete gubernatorial control unnecessary.
Indeed, Maryland remains the only state in which the legislature is legally prohibited from adding items to the state budget. Over the past several years, constitutional amendments have been introduced to give the legislature authority to move funds around to reflect other priorities than the ones in the Governor's budget The proposed constitutional amendment did not give the legislature the authority to increase budget funds. These proposed constitutional amendments failed to gain approval.