Maryland voters will hold the power of the purse this fall ― casting ballots to decide whether the legislature can create a sports betting industry, and whether the General Assembly should be able to rewrite budgets submitted by the governor.
Both issues could have a substantial impact on the state’s bottom line, as lawmakers navigate a season of budget uncertainty while simultaneously balancing priorities that include a multi-year multi-billion-dollar education reform plan that was vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) because of its hefty price tag.
Once a bipartisan and ever-nagging issue in the legislature, this proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by voters, would allow lawmakers to increase, decrease and move money around in the state’s budget, subject to the overall cap in the budget the governor presents.
Under rules in place for more than a century, Maryland legislatures have been limited in their budgetary power to reducing or eliminating appropriations from governors’ proposed budgets. The rules generally prohibit the General Assembly from increasing funding for programs (at least not without creating a corresponding new revenue source).
Advocates for the proposed change ― which have included Democratic and Republican legislators through the years ― note that the Maryland General Assembly is the most-constrained legislature in the country when it comes to influencing a state’s budget.
As the measure moved quickly through the legislature in the frenzied final days of the 2020 session, some Republican lawmakers complained that the bill was another attempt to usurp power from the executive branch after Hogan’s electoral victories.
The amendment, if approved, would not take effect until 2023.
If voters approve this referendum, the General Assembly could pass legislation authorizing the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission to issue sports betting licenses.
The referendum is light on specifics. Key questions — such as would gambling on college sports be allowed and could people bet from home on an app? — are left to the legislature.
It is expected that lawmakers would decide next year who is eligible to apply for a license, what types of events Marylanders could wager on, and how and where gambling could occur.
The state Senate unanimously approved a measure this year that specified how sports betting would take place, but the bill died in the House of Delegates toward the end of the session, which was cut short due to the spread of coronavirus.
Lawmakers opted for a general referendum instead.
It’s estimated that sports betting would bring in approximately $18 million per year. The measure authorizing the referendum requires that revenues generated by sports betting must be used primarily for funding public education.
It also requires a disparity study to determine whether the state must adopt measures “to assist minorities and women in the sports and event wagering industry and market.”
If the referendum is approved, Maryland would join several neighboring jurisdictions in allowing gambling on sports.