Annapolis - Change Maryland charged that several years of poor budgeting decisions are causing elected officials to propose drastic transportation policy changes including leasing the Inter-County Connector, establishing new layers of government in the form of regional taxing districts and what is emerging as a perennial favorite - raising gasoline taxes.
"Our elected officials are throwing mud up against the wall to see what sticks," said Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan. "If the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker really cared about improving transportation, they would not have let it reach crisis proportions."
Compared to fiscal year 2007 levels, counties' transportation funding has declined nearly $380 million through what state government calls highway user revenues. For every jurisdiction except Baltimore City, fiscal year 2013 levels are 90% lower than just six years ago. The dollar amounts Maryland counties have lost is staggering. Compared to 2007 levels, Baltimore County went from $45.7 million to $3.7 million; Montgomery County went from $40.4 million to $3.3 million; Anne Arundel went from $31.8 million to $2.6 million.
“Maryland transportation policy seems to be done on the fly as an afterthought. Governor O'Malley's legislative priorities this session are focused on pet issues and reacting to the latest headlines," Hogan said.
Last year O'Malley floated raising gasoline taxes on a radio station towards the end of last year's session and the initiative subsequently flopped in the legislature. Nearly seven months has lapsed since O'Malley has named a transportation secretary leaving a massive state agency a rudderless ship.
Senate President Mike Miller last week proposed to raise gasoline taxes 3% and establish regional taxing districts to allocate money for local projects. House Speaker Micheal Busch has expressed doubts about Miller's proposal. Meanwhile, there is still no consensus of how any new or existing transportation revenues derived from gasoline taxes and vehicle fees would be dedicated to that purpose.
"The three-ring circus approach to making transportation policy must stop," said Hogan. Hogan said the current approach is backwards and outlined specific steps to restore the public's confidence that state government can address the challenges of maintenance and undertaking new road and mass-transit projects.
First, sound budgeting must apply to transportation. Second, the public must be assured that the transportation taxes and fees already collected are dedicated to this purpose. Third, elected officials must come up with cuts to other parts of the budget before even discussing additional taxes and fees. O'Malley's latest budget is up 30%, more than $9 billion since 2007.
The Change Maryland Chairman and its 26,000 members say no gas tax increase is needed. The state already collects enough from motorists to maintain roads and bridges. One of the problems is that revenues collected from motorists is disproportionately spent on expensive mass transit and even for non transportation related expenses.