Question 1 would grant state lawmakers the same budgetary powers enjoyed by their counterparts elsewhere — namely, to shift and target spending priorities. That would end a system, devised in 1916 by reformers who imagined governors were nobly above the partisan fray while legislators were irredeemable spendthrifts. Today, Maryland is the only state in which lawmakers are powerless to transfer funds or add items to the governor’s annual budget, though they may cut money from one program and plead that it be moved elsewhere.
Bipartisan efforts to scrap the system have failed for more than 20 years, owing to the passivity of some legislators who were content to duck responsibility.
If voters approve Question 1 — which would take effect in 2024, after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has left office — it would right the power imbalance between the executive and legislative branches. Constituents, interest groups and others could press elected representatives to help fund their priorities. The governor could exercise line-item veto power, a new authority, and his budget’s total spending ceiling would remain sacrosanct. There’s little risk to the state’s AAA credit rating: A dozen other states with the same rating confer similar power on their lawmakers.
Question 2, if approved, would legalize sports betting, already legal in 22 states, including all those bordering Maryland as well as D.C. The regulatory details remain to be worked out in legislation, but the contours are known: The state would license casinos, some racetracks, its fairgrounds and other locations (such as the Washington football team’s stadium) to operate betting venues along with online (largely mobile) platforms. Annual tax revenue, which would be earmarked for public K-12 education, is estimated at $20 million to $40 million — a useful bump at a time when the pandemic has depleted taxes from casino gambling.
This is not an ideal way to raise funds, but informal and illegal sports betting is already big business in Maryland, and residents already can place their bets legally — by crossing into D.C., for instance, and pulling out their phones. Online sports-betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings are spending millions to persuade voters to back the measure; so far, there is no organized effort against. If it passes, lawmakers will need to proceed cautiously to make sure consumers and local communities are protected.