February 26, 2010

Analysis: Who should pay for Baltimore City’s roads?

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The state’s longstanding practice of paying more for Baltimore City roads — then letting the city government handle its own paving — is coming under increasing scrutiny this year as other jurisdictions struggle with reduced state highway aid.

Since Baltimore takes care of the state roads within its borders, the city takes in much more in highway user revenues than any other jurisdiction. That has been exacerbated by cuts in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget for this year.

In the governor’s plan, the city would get nearly $131 million, while the counties share $8 million and municipalities get $41 million.

Legislative analysts are recommending to lawmakers that they take $30 million from the city and spread it throughout the 23 counties.

Republican lawmakers in a budget briefing this week proposed taking $100 million from the city’s share of highway user revenues this year. And at a hearing Thursday, Baltimore Sen. Verna Jones asked what it would cost the state to take over the maintenance of state roads in the city.

State roads everywhere else are handled mostly by the State Highway Administration. But the state doesn’t do everything, so the highway user aid helps fill the gaps.

Baltimore kicks in about 24 percent of the cost of road maintenance, according to a Department of Legislative Services analysis, while the counties pay about 54 percent of their own costs.

Highway user revenues have been cut drastically over the past several years to help balance the budget. As it did this year, O’Malley’s 2011 budget again proposes to keep 95 percent of the highway user money set aside for the counties.

-Andy Rosen