The Governor has called a “Special Session” for the General Assembly this month for the purpose of redrawing the boundary lines of Maryland’s 8 congressional districts in conformity with the 2010 Census. How those lines are drawn largely determines who is elected.
As recently as 2000, Maryland’s delegation to Congress was split evenly, with 4 Republicans representing Maryland. Through a careful redrawing, that number was reduced to 2 in 2002, and the goal for this year is to reduce it to 1.
The final maps have yet to be released but the target this year appears to be Congressman Roscoe Barlett from Western Maryland. To achieve this partisan goal, Republican Anne Arundel County will be carved again into four little pieces to dilute the vote and deny us much influence in Congress.
Passing the new districts will not take more than 1 or 2 days and then the General Assembly will adjourn until the regular 90 day session starting January 11, 2012 ; however, once convened by the Governor, the General Assembly can choose to take on additional issues.
Many state leaders have offered support for new tax proposals. As quoted by the Montgomery Gazette, the democrat leader in the Senate stated frankly that taxes should be raised now because it would be much harder to raise taxes later (closer to an election). Many are supporting new taxes for the purpose of new transportation projects.
On cue, just days ago, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding announced their finding that the state should raise $520 million in new transportation taxes, and recommends that new taxes be based on raising the state’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax, applying a sales tax to gas and vehicle repair services, raising property taxes, and increasing fees on vehicle registration, titling and environmental inspections.
The dis-repair of our state roads and the cuts in local road money for the last three years is cited as justification; moreover, the proponents argue that a raise in the gas tax is only reasonable since it has not been increased in 23 years. Revenue, however, is not the problem.
Road construction is usually paid for through the Transportation Trust Fund which is funded by the gas tax and titling and registration fees, and while the gas tax has not been increased, revenue has doubled in the last ten years because of growth. The problem is government spending.
$2.1 billion has been “borrowed” from the Trust Fund to paper over the deficits of the last three years. Rather than reining in spending, the Governor chose to raid all of the special funds, including the Transportation Trust Fund. Raising new taxes now would mean little without a stronger guarantee written into the law mandating the new taxes be spent on transportation projects, a guarantee the Governor has been unwilling to support.
Likewise the Governor is now boasting that the state has a $195 million surplus. The Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute states “On a 12-month basis, the budget for fiscal year 2012 is still not structurally balanced. Under the Governor’s plan, the state will spend (in general funds) $14.6 billion and take in $13.7 billion. The gap of $900 million is made up by spending down the general fund balance, transferring money from Open Space funds, the Bay Restoration Fund
and other special accounts”. A $195 million “surplus” still leaves us short about $705 million which means the trust fund is likely to be robbed again next year.
The Transportation Trust Fund is supposed to be a dedicated fund by law, paid for by road users for road improvements. It is misleading for state leaders to sell new taxes based on new roads we are unlikely to ever see.