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No Movement On Transportation Funding
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February 21, 2013
Somewhere between a whopping tax increase and a catastrophic failure of Maryland’s transportation system may lie a middle ground that can win General Assembly approval. But WYPR’s Karen Hosler reports a public hearing yesterday on the issue shows why consensus is so elusive.
Karen Hosler: Aides to Governor Martin O’Malley and top legislative leaders are negotiating behind the scenes to produce a new scheme for financing repairs to Maryland’s crowded roads and dilapidated bridges and to expand the state’s meager mass transit system. But that’s not good enough for Senate President Mike Miller, whose package of options includes empowering regional transportation authorities to raise their own taxes. He was frustrated yesterday that O’Malley has failed to endorse any specific plan and failed to show up at a committee hearing on Miller’s package.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: The fact that he was not here today and the fact that his people were not here today was a huge mistake on the part of the administration. You know he defined the problem and then didn’t come up with a solution. What the hell kind of leadership is that?
Hosler: The difficulty of the task was underscored at the public hearing. Baltimore and Washington metropolitan area officials, chambers of commerce from throughout the state and the Maryland League of Women Voters urged action. Miller saw that as a good sign.
Miller: People who study the issue know that the transportation trust fund is going dry. Bone dry. And that means no money for maintenance much less building new roads.
Hosler: Yet the notion of any sort of tax increase at this time—especially one to help pay for buses and rail systems—got a vigorous thumbs down from small business and community leaders in the rural parts of the state.
Anirban Basu: This is a time of economic fragility, consumer fragility, and the proposition is to take that much more money out of, out of consumer’s disposable income or spending power.”
Hosler: That was Anirban Basu, an economist and WYPR underwriter, who was hired by the Tea Party group, Americans for Prosperity, to study the effects of a potential gas tax increase on Maryland’s middle class. Gravely at risk by the failure to act soon is federal matching money for two major mass transit projects: the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in suburban Washington. But that’s not his problem, says Jack Tevis, an oil and gas distributor in Westminster, whose family business employs 200 people and has 50 trucks on the road every day.
Jack Tevis: I would support a rise in the gas tax if it could be—if it would only go to roads and bridges.
Hosler: The urban/rural split on sharing the cost of transportation improvements is a major obstacle on the road to consensus. Nancy Soreng, of Maryland’s League of Women Voters, rejected the assertion that rural drivers shouldn’t have to share the cost of mass transit they won’t use.
Nancy Soreng: We feel that, that investment in mass transit helps the entire state. It helps the state perform better economically. It brings in jobs. It makes the transportation system work better for motorists as well as those people who take mass transit, so therefore we sort of reject the idea that mass transit takes away from the motorists’ experience.”
Hosler: Plus, she said, mass transit helps clean the air by keeping some cars off the road. But with gasoline prices spiking, Miller, O’Malley and House Speaker Mike Busch will all have to display extraordinary leadership to get any kind of transportation financing bill through the legislature. I’m Karen Hosler, reporting in Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR.
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