June 29, 2015

Rascovar: Hogan to Baltimore: ‘Drop Dead’

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Veteran journalist Barry Rascovar writes a weekly column for MarylandReporter.com which is later posted on his own website, PoliticalMaryland.com, along with his other columns. The topics chosen and the opinions are his own. For a different take, see MarylandReporter.com editor Len Lazarick’s commentary, “With the Red Line dead, what is Hogan’s ‘best way’ for Baltimore?”

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Larry Hogan Jr. never has had an affinity for Baltimore. He’s never lived in a big city. He’s a suburban Washington, suburban Annapolis kind of guy.

Hogan also is a cold, calculating political animal. He has embraced a staunch right-wing mindset — all government spending is bad, all liberal social programs are wasteful, all outlays that don’t help him politically are a boondoggle.

Thus, it was easy for Governor Hogan to kill more than a decade worth of work, more than a quarter-billion dollars already spent and to forfeit $900 million in federal funds that would have gone toward building a pivotal rail-transit line for Baltimore, the Red Line.

No help

amd-ford-to-city-jpgIt is reminiscent of President Gerald Ford’s stern rebuke to New York City’s pleas for urgent help to avert imminent bankruptcy in 1975. As the New York Daily News summed it up so aptly in its banner headline the next day: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

Ford thought a bailout would be a wasteful boondoggle, too. Why save the nation’s greatest city? That’s not government’s role!

Hogan takes the same unyielding attitude toward Baltimore, which in his mind really isn’t part of Maryland.

It’s such a nonentity – where poor people live — that when he sent word on Twitter of his $2 billion in road projects and $167 million for the Purple Line project in the Washington suburbs, Hogan’s aides failed to show Baltimore City on their map. It had vanished into the Chesapeake Bay.

Freudian slip? You bet.

When asked that day what was in his transportation package for Baltimore, the Republican governor said there was nothing.

Saw it off

Hogan would just as soon see Baltimore and its expensive needs disappear, or as Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater famously said in 1963, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.”

It’s no surprise Hogan committed over 90% of his transportation package to roads and bridges, becoming the darling of the asphalt and concrete industries. Fundraising checks will roll in from those interest groups.

Giving the back of the hand to Baltimore is becoming a Hogan habit. Sure, he put on a good face by sending in the National Guard and jovially walking the mean streets of the city briefly (with State Police protection, of course).

But what has the governor done for Baltimore since then to address city residents’ discontent? Precious little.

This is the same governor who deep-sixed needed education aid for city schools in his first budget and then backed out of a compromise to restore some of those funds.

It was just more wasteful, irresponsible spending in Hogan’s eyes.

Body blow for city

Failing to support the Red Line is a crushing blow for the state’s only large city, a city that in many respects is barely treading water.

The Red Line could have been a giant jobs-generator and income-producer in an urban center with very high unemployment. Instead, Hogan called it a “boondoggle.” (Ironically, Hogan at the same event praised the Purple Line because of it jobs-producing potential.)

It would have been a godsend for the people in West Baltimore who rioted in April over their impoverished conditions, creating access to employment opportunities along the Red Line route, from Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn to Johns Hopkins Bayview.

It would have sparked retail and commercial development and housing at nearly two dozen Red LIne stations.

It would have rejuvenated Baltimore’s sagging downtown business district.

It would have eased some of the traffic gridlock and auto pollution.

Most of all, it would have given Baltimore a connected, viable rail-transit system, providing the missing link not just for city residents but for suburban families living to the east and west.

Sticking to pledge

Larry Hogan hand raised verticalThe Red Line is dead, killed by an adamant Larry Hogan. He has fulfilled his campaign promise to his conservative, non-urban followers.

There won’t be any major rail transit expansion in Baltimore for two decades or more, thanks to Hogan. That $900 million set aside for the Red Line is lost forever. The highway boys are cheering

The $288 million already spent by the state now has been turned by Hogan into government waste. His staff, in typical Republican fashion, blamed Democrat Martin O’Malley for that Red Line spending, though the onus rightly should have been placed on Republican Bob Ehrlich, who gave the go-ahead.

What Hogan won’t admit is that this money had been well spent — until Hogan turned all that sophisticated planning and detailed engineering blueprints to ashes. The wasteful governor is Larry Hogan.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz astutely asked Hogan in a statement what he proposes as his Plan B, his back-up plan, for Baltimore.

There is no alternative. Hogan to City: ‘Drop Dead.’

Now Hogan’s aides are scrambling to come up with some pitiful city road work that can be paraded as a Potemkin Village of a transportation substitute for Baltimore.

Political calculation

The governor’s decision was a cold, calculated political move: fortify rural and suburban support with $2 billion in road and bridge work and hunt for additional votes for the next election in the Washington suburbs, thanks to his tentative support of the Purple Line.

But don’t be surprised if the Purple Line never gets built.

Hogan remains hostile toward rapid transit. He wants to do the job on the cheap, squeezing Prince George’s and Montgomery counties for hefty extra contributions and then getting a private-sector consortium of builders to chip in another $400 million or more.

This most likely means a slimmed-down rail line that won’t work well, or no line at all. There’s also the chance the private-sector developer will be forced to charge exorbitant ticket fares for decades to recoup the investment demanded by Hogan.

Birds of a feather

It’s no accident Hogan picked a transportation secretary known as a highway man, with zero experience in rapid rail transit. He was brought in to kill at least one of the expensive mass-transit projects, and he may eventually succeed in killing both.

No wonder Hogan and Secretary Pete Rahn talked about the Red Line as “fatally flawed” and a “boondoggle” because — horrors of horrors — it included costly tunnels through the heart of downtown Baltimore.

Exactly how do you build an efficient subway line — or an “underground” as the British call it — without spending a lot of money to take the Red LIne below grade through the heart of a crowded urban center?

Anything built on the surface would compound downtown gridlock and make a joke of Red Line time savings. Sure, tunneling is very expensive but not if you take into consideration it will be serving Baltimoreans a century from now.

By Hogan’s and Rahn’s thinking, all of the Washington Metro’s downtown subterranean rail network is a gigantic boondoggle. So is New York City’s subway. And London’s, too.

It’s a phony argument that stalwart conservatives like Hogan trot out.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Hogan get elected, used the same sort of illogic in 2009 to blow up a badly needed $12 billion rail tunnel between his state and New York City that would have doubled New Jersey commuter capacity.

Christie, like Hogan, set aside the long-term good he might do so he could boast to voters about chopping off the head of a wasteful project.

Solid Democratic

What’s wasteful in this case is failing to give Baltimore a decent mass-transit system that holds the potential to stimulate economic development, job growth and improve residents’ quality of life.

Hogan has no interest, though, in anything dealing with Baltimore. He feels like a stranger there. It’s overwhelmingly Democratic turf. Why bother?

“With these projects, we’re going to touch the lives of citizens across the state,” Hogan said in his announcement. He needed to add the words, “except in Baltimore.”

Now Rahn & Co. are hastily trying to jerry-rig a substitute transportation scheme for Baltimore.

More buses on narrow, overcrowded city streets?

Paving over the existing light-rail line and converting it into a busway?

Or just shoveling more transportation dollars to the city to re-pave its potholed network of deteriorating asphalt?

Without speedy rail transit nothing will prove effective in the long run. Yet Hogan says he won’t pay for it in Baltimore (though he will in suburban Washington).

Burying Baltimore

Larry Hogan has put a deep nail in Baltimore’s coffin. He’s not looking to ameliorate the damage, either.

Maryland’s governor is a jovial, common-man sort of figure, but we’re learning that he holds a rigidly conservative view of the world.

In Hogan’s world, impoverished Baltimore needs to fend for itself because this governor — to use lyrics from the musical “West Side Story” — would rather “let it sink back in the ocean.”

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com

  • David Eastman

    Did it ever occur to you that the other citizens of Maryland are sick and tired of paying the bills for Baltimore? $700,000 city hall phone system, millions missing from school budget….corruption at the land fill…etc., etc…..

  • Donh

    If they could come up with a unified mass transit system, instead of the patchwork that the Red Line would only add to, then maybe it would be worth spending money on a system. The Red Line is a different type of train than the Light Rail or the Metro and it doesn’t connect well with either.

  • Jim

    Mr. Rascovar; in case you never realized it, Gerald Ford’s refusal to guarantee NYC’s loans was the best thing that happened to that city in many decades. Instead of perpetuating its deficit spending, New York had to get its fiscal house in shape and reforms its ways. Much like finally getting to tough love with errant children Ford did New York a great favor.

  • aureliusjb

    Until the state solves the problem of the city exporting crime out to the near suburbs through light rail (read about the problems Linthicum and Reisterstown have had), then I am glad the Red Line is dead. I live in Woodlawn and I am ecstatic by the governor’s decision. I agree with the points made by the other respondents below.

  • Dale McNamee

    Barry, Barry, Barry,

    Why do the taxpayers HAVE TO FUND Baltimore’s ever more expensive “needs” ?

    They should be “cut loose and free”, let the City Council of Clowns, friends, and buddies fund it themselves, along with the supporters…

    They could set up a “Go Fund Me” account…/ sarc

    As for “sagging” downtown Baltimore… I don’t understand… What about tourists, conventions and those who have “I love city life” stickers on their cars supporting it ?

    If that can’t do it, a new venue for basketball and hockey teams that don’t exist won’t work either !

    Could it be that the RIOTS and a murderous May, along with non-lethal crimes (assault, robbery, “knock out games”,etc.) didn’t really help ?

    The last time I came to Baltimore was to volunteer for the Baltimore Grand Prix in 2011 and 2012… As I said, that was my LAST time…

    Prior to that was sometime in the late ’80’s…

    I’m glad that Governor Hogan is giving Baltimore some “tough love”…