Constitutional Amendment On Ballot Could Change Power Dynamic in Annapolis

The first of two statewide ballot questions this year could create a significant shift in power in Annapolis by allowing the General Assembly to move money around within the governor’s proposed budget. The legislature debated the proposed amendment to the state constitution for more than two decades before sending it to voters this year.

Every January, the governor must submit a proposed budget to the General Assembly. Then the legislature’s budget committees get to work, holding hearings with each state agency. 

Under current law, though, the legislature’s power to change the budget is limited. Only the governor can propose increasing the money allocated to specific programs or agencies. The legislature can only cut spending. 

If the legislature wants to move money from one part of the budget to another — for example, take $10 million from the state Department of Transportation and spend it on education — lawmakers cut the money from the budget and authorize the governor to spend it only on the legislature’s intended use. Lawmakers refer to this as “fencing off” the funds.

However, the governor does not have to release the money. He can choose not to spend it.

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