By Len Lazarick
Voters next year will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment creating a “lockbox” to prevent raids on the Transportation Trust Fund for other purposes, but Republican opponents said the measure was a sham that would provide little protection.
Sponsored by Senate President Mike Miller as a companion to an increase in the gasoline tax, the measure, SB829, provides that money can only be taken out of the Transportation Trust Fund after a three-fifths vote of both houses of the Maryland General Assembly once the governor has declared a state of “fiscal emergency.”
Money from the gas tax, vehicle sales tax and vehicle registration fees flow into the trust fund. Over the past decade, billions have been taken out of the trust fund for other programs to help balance the budget. All but $1.1 billion in highway user revenues has been repaid.
Miller and Democratic leaders believe that the “lockbox” would reassure Maryland citizens that transportation revenues are going only for roads and mass transit.
Republicans question security of lockbox
But House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell objected, “Every time we raid the Transportation Trust Fund, it meets the three-fifths vote” in both houses.
The problem with the lockbox provision is that it did not define “a fiscal emergency,” Republicans said. They offered several amendments that would make it apply only after an invasion, natural disaster or other such catastrophe, not just a prolonged economic recession.
Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, offered a substitute constitutional amendment also spelling out that the any money taken out of the trust fund would have to be repaid over five years.
The Democratic proposal “does not give any type of real lockbox on the trust fund,” Krebs said.
Measure will be before the voters November 2014
All Republican amendments were rejected by wide margins. The constitutional amendment, which also requires a three-fifths vote, passed the House 106-32 and it passed the Senate 40-7 Monday night in the final hours of the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session.
As a change to the state constitution, it does not need the signature of the governor, but goes directly to the voters for their approval in the November 2014 election.