Delegate Swiftly Loses Gavel Over House Vote on Budget Powers

The scoreboard as the House votes Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to give legislators more say over the state budget. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Retribution came swiftly and publicly for a member of the House of Delegates Wednesday following a heated vote on a proposal to give the General Assembly more power over the state budget.

In the final hours of the 2020 legislative session, the House was debating a proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution, which originated in the state Senate, that would grant the Legislature the power to move funding around in the state budget.

Several Republican lawmakers rose on the House floor to oppose the measure, arguing that giving the Legislature more say over the budget ― Maryland’s chief executive has more power over state spending than just about any governor in the U.S. ― would invariably lead to more government spending and higher taxes.

They were also incredulous that the House would vote on a Senate bill that hadn’t had a hearing in a House committee ― at a time when the State House is on lockdown during an international health crisis and the public is having trouble watching legislative proceedings on livestream.

“That’s tyranny, Madame Speaker,” said Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore County).

Then Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s) rose to oppose the vote. She too questioned the wisdom of ramming the bill through when there had been no House hearing, fretting about “the integrity of the process.”

The bill wound up passing, 95-39. Only one Democrat voted against it: Valentino-Smith.

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s). File photo

Seconds later, as the House prepared to recess for half an hour, Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) called for a quick vote on an appointment: Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-Prince George’s), she indicated without explanation, would be the new House chairman of the legislature’s Spending Affordability Committee, which studies revenue projections and the state economy.

The previous committee chair: Valentino-Smith.

“Have you ever seen them strip a man [of a leadership position]?” Valentino-Smith asked a reporter minutes after the vote. “I’m disappointed. I have never seen that type of retribution taken against someone who has spoken out against a committee.”

Jeremy Baker, a spokesman for Jones, said the speaker’s office had no comment.

A handful of House members privately referred to the removal of Valentino-Smith from the Spending Affordability Committee as “gangster.”

The proposal itself appears to be gaining traction after several unsuccessful attempts through the years.

Under rules in place for more than a century, Maryland legislators have been limited in their budgetary power. Lawmakers can reduce or eliminate appropriations from governors’ proposed budgets, but are not allowed to increase funding.

The proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by voters in a November ballot initiative, would allow lawmakers to increase, decrease and move money around in the budget, within the restraints of an overall budget cap proposed by the governor.

Despite Republicans’ vehement objections as the bill moved through the legislature this session, the push for a constitutional amendment change giving lawmakers more say over state spending has been championed by Republican legislators in the past ― including David R. Brinkley, who is now Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s Budget secretary.

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.