In a decision that could have far-reaching implications, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that a governor has no obligation to provide money for legislated programs just because the General Assembly mandate it.
The ruling has stunned some state legislators who say that it could seriously hamper the Assembly's ability to influence state policy. Reportedly, some legislators are considering reviving bills that would change the state constitution's budget provisions.
The Friday ruling, over the sharp dissent of three members of the seven-judge court, resulted from efforts of a lobbying group and state legislators to force Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel to comply fully with a 1974 state law he signed increasing certain foster care payments.
Often, such bills are passed and signed into law by the governor separate from the annual state budget bill, that is, without any approriation to pay for them. They then become meaningless as legislation unless the governor chooses to include money in his budget.
The court said that Mandel's practice of limiting state spending to a level less than that ordered by the assembly in such bills was constitutionally proper.
The ruling specifically affects those families caring for most of the 11,000 children in foster homes throughout the state.
Twp state agencies, the Department of Human Resources and the Juvenile Services Adminstration, place children in foster homes. Families that care for children placed through juvenile services receive a higher payment than those who take in children from human resources. The 1974 law would have more nearly equalized the payments from both programs, but Mandel chose not to provide money to do so.
State officials speculated that the ruling could give the state's chief executive broader spending latitude in such other programs as the state employees' retirement system, state support of volunteer firefighters, and state aid to county governments.
Friday's decision is the first such ruling on whether the governor must provide suddicient funds for a measure requiring money passed by the General Assembly when the Assembly doesn't provide the money itself through a special "nuisance" tax.
Usually during legislative sessions, delegates introduce and pass several such bills often to appease and gain political credit from lobbying groups or the public at large.
The majority opinion of the court written by Judge John C. Eldridge (Mandel's former legislative aide), followed a strict interpretation of the state constitution that states that money for government programs can be provided only through the governor's annual budget request or by the General Assembly passing a special supplemetal appropriation.
Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy in a sharply worded dissenting opinion termed the ruling a "grievous error."
Del. Anne R. Hull (D-Price George's), sponsor of the 1974 law, expressed surprise that such a ruling had come on the foster care bill and termed the ruling "a landmark case."
"There's not much you can do in the state legislature that isn't going to cost money," she continued. "Must all these bills be (ruled) unconstitutional?"
State Senate president Steny H. Hoyer was reported to have said the ruling could lead to efforts to amend the state constitution to offset the court's action.