Delegate Tony McConkey's Official Blog

Political Theater And The Defense Of Motorists

political-theaterThis post was originally published in the August edition of the “Severna Park Voice.”

We were treated to some political theater in July. The message was “the Governor hates Baltimore City” and it is likely to be a major theme in the next legislative session in January.

The leadership in the house and senate convened several hearings to attack the Republican governor for his state transportation plan and how he has cheated Baltimore City. At one point a city delegate, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, held up a map of the State of Maryland saying “we need the money spent where the people are”. Never mine the fact that in 2016 Baltimore City will get $135M for road maintenance from the state while similarly populated Anne Arundel County gets only $3M.

political-theater-motoristThe history if you remember is that the Transportation Trust Fund was flush with cash not too long ago and was raided by former Governor O’Malley to cover spending elsewhere and to balance the state budget. Money for road repair and new projects were slashed. In 2011, having taken more than $1B from the trust fund, O’Malley declared a crisis in transportation that could only be fixed by a doubling of the gas tax.

O’Malley argued the gas tax needed to be doubled because sadly the trust fund was empty and there was no money for road repair. Without new taxes, roads and bridges would crumple and then there’s that bridge out West somewhere that collapsed so we had better double the gas tax; however, after raising the gas tax, toll rates and other fees almost exclusively on motorists to avert the “crisis,” O’Malley announced that all the money would be spent on THREE new public transit lines, lines that less than 8% of the population would ever use, while the rest of us would be stuck with the tab and crumbling roads.

Voter frustration over these issues helped elect a new governor who promised to build and fix more roads. Still the new governor took the time to study the projects and listen to all sides, weighing the strengths of each project. After that process he decided to compromise and agreed to construct one of the transit lines, the “Purple Line”. The Purple Line he felt was the most cost effective after cutting $200M in extras like artwork and fancy finishes, and after requiring a larger contribution from the local counties that would benefit most. Other O’Malley projects were cancelled to free up money to build and fix roads.

The Balimore City “Red Line” that he cancelled was not worth the $3B price and the money is vitally needed elsewhere after eight years of neglect under O’Malley. The cancelling of the Red Line will not only allow $845M for ten major new road projects, including Anne Arundel County’s much waited for Rt 175 improvements that were first requested 10 years ago as part of the Ft Meade BRAC changes, but also an additional $500M in new statewide road maintenance and repair. The governor’s shift to road construction will spend the money “where the people are” and help more people than one Baltimore City transit line ever could.

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