By Jeffrey Peters, Political consultant based in Annapolis, MD and a resident of Manchester, MD.
Recently, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Chairman of Maryland’s House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, decried the move by Governor Larry Hogan to restore $75 million in state employee pension obligation debt payments instead of providing option education spending. What the Chairman reveals is a willingness to completely disregard the provisions of the Maryland Constitution.
When the Governor introduced his budget, he provided for $150 million in payments to the state’s pension fund. The Chairman of Appropriations cut the provision and then chose to add many additional spending measures.
According to Article III, Section 52 of the Maryland Constitution: “and the General Assembly may amend the bill by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the General Assembly, and by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the judiciary, but except as hereinbefore specified, may not alter the said bill except to strike out or reduce items therein”
Any additions made by the committee are invalid and cannot be allowed under state law. The Governor is Constitutionally obligated to ignore any such provisions and is prohibited from spending any money on those provisions. Legally speaking, the Governor could not spend any of the additional money added by the committee even if he wanted to because it was illegally and unconstitutionally added.
Could such unconstitutional actions jeopardize the rest of the budget bill? No: “If any item of any appropriation bill passed under the provisions of this Section shall be held invalid upon any ground, such invalidity shall not affect the legality of the bill or of any other item of such bill or bills.”
This clause predicts unconstitutional provisions being added to the budget and makes it clear that such cannot be tolerated. Previous generations were well aware of the temptation to abuse authority and ensured that such abuses could be addressed.
Now, this clause only provides that the additional spending (all additional spending, not just the education related additions) is illegal. How then do we justify the Governor restoring the debt payment? The Constitution makes it clear that “The General Assembly shall not amend the Budget Bill so as to affect either the obligations of the State under Section 34 of Article III of the Constitution…or the payment of any salaries required to be paid by the State of Maryland by the Constitution thereof”
By removing the original debt payment provisions, the Appropriations Committee illegally and unconstitutionally removed both a salary obligation and a debt service obligation. It is impossible for the Governor and the General Assembly to not make these payments.
Not only is the Governor obligated under state law and the Constitution to strip the additional funding, but he MUST restore the debt payment. It is a disservice to the people of Maryland to have a Committee Chairman and her staff not only take blatantly illegal actions regarding the budget but to vigorously defend said illegal actions.