Annapolis - Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan called on Governor Martin O'Malley to show leadership on addressing the state's transportation problems and urged legislative leaders to help him do so.
In a meeting with reporters yesterday, O'Malley said the challenge to addressing transportation needs is not including a lock box provision to protect funds from being used elsewhere in the state budget and then went on to say that he's "open to any lock box anyone wants to propose."
"The Governor is making the transportation funding problem worse by sending such confusing signals," said Hogan. "It's no wonder people despise increasing the gas tax - they know that politicians will simply waste the money and spend it however they choose."
Specific steps that must be taken now to restore confidence in the state's ability to invest in transportation infrastructure are requiring the administration to first pay back the money drained from the transportation budget and enact measures to protect the transportation trust fund.
In addition, Hogan, the former state Appointment Secretary, called on O'Malley to appoint a transportation secretary. The previous MDOT secretary announced in April that she would be leaving the cabinet post and eight months later the Governor has yet to announce a replacement. "This is very poor timing to have a rudderless ship,"said Hogan, noting that the department is the largest in state government.
Since O'Malley became Governor in 2007, nearly $700 million has been diverted from transportation and has not yet been repaid. Chronic siphoning of such funds and the lack of a consensus on how to protect the transportation trust fund have caused O'Malley's gas tax increase and other revenue proposals to stall. In yesterday's meeting the Governor sought to draw a distinction between highway user revenues and the transportation trust fund, both of which are funded by state tax dollars.
"People don't sit in traffic wondering whether they are on a state highway or a county highway," said Hogan. "The bureaucratic difference over which pot of money goes to what road has absolutely nothing to do with solving transportation problems."
The gasoline tax is a proposal that won't go away. In the closing moments of the last regular General Assembly session, the Governor clumsily announced on a radio station an ill-conceived plan to apply the sales tax to gasoline. The proposal had no political support and failed to get voted out of committee. Most recently, county executives in Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's held a so-called transportation summit last week to plead for higher fuel levies.
"Here we go again," said Hogan. "We were successful in stopping the gas tax increase, and the sales tax on gasoline last session, but they are still trying to ram it through. And now O'Malley expects struggling Maryland families and small businesses to pay for his mistakes. They want us to forget about the hundreds of millions of dollars he robbed from transportation funds."
Over the past decade, $1.1 billion in transportation funds initially intended for local governments to use on roads and bridges has been put into the state's general fund to help balance the budget.
"After raising taxes and fees 24 times and taking an additional $2.4 billion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers, we know O'Malley prefers raising taxes over leading," Hogan said."O'Malley must show leadership and take some responsibility on funding transportation, or he's going to achieve the same dismal results as before with the failed gas tax schemes."
Legislative analysts say the state is about $2 billion short of the money it needs to undertake projects currently approved.