By Megan Poinski
Legislative analysts said Friday that $870 million more in revenues for transportation – the amount recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding – is not enough for the state to meet all of its needs.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed applying the sales tax to gasoline, which would generate over $600 million, but he has yet to submit legislation to implement the tax.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, whose agency collects the gas tax, is hosting a roundtable at noon on the gas tax hike that includes industry opponents of any increase.
In a hearing on the state’s transportation budget Frdiay, legislative analyst Jonathan Martin told members of the House Appropriations Committee that Maryland’s aging infrastructure is demanding more and more dollars.
“Because of all the funding pressure for transit lines and system preservation, the amount raised is insufficient to meet those needs,” Martin said. “With a shortfall, as policymakers, you have difficult choices to make.”
The shortfall is exacerbated by two major factors. The state is planning to build two major commuter transit projects – the Red Line to connect Baltimore suburbs and the Purple Line to connect Washington, D.C. suburbs – without a funding source. The federal government is paying half of the planning costs, but estimates for construction costs are as much as $724 million in a single year. Congress has not come to a consensus on how to fund transportation in the future, causing uncertainty about continued funding.
According to the analysis done by the Department of Legislative Services, between fiscal 2013 and 2017, it would cost about $6.5 billion to do all of the work that the state has proposed. Even if $870 million more in transportation funds are raised, the state will under $5 billion to work with in that five-year period.
Martin said that policymakers have many questions to answer in order to shore up transportation funds. One of the things that the Blue Ribbon Commission wanted to do is restore Highway User Revenues – funds given to city, county and municipal governments to maintain local roads. The funds were cut as state budgets got tighter.
Local governments used to count on these funds. Del. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s, said that he spoke to county officials who used the state funds for 100% of their road repairs. The Blue Ribbon Commission wanted to raise $350 million just to distribute to local governments through these funds.
However, Martin said that the amount may need to be lowered in order for the state to meet its other obligations. Working on mass transit projects is extremely expensive, and building two transit lines at once will be costly. Martin said that the state could do it through methods like drastically increasing fuel taxes, entering into a public-private partnership to build the transit lines, or delaying construction of one of them.
The state is depending on federal funds to pay for half of the new transit line costs. Martin said that may not happen. The federal government has been debating a reauthorization of transportation funds and looking at places to cut. It is possible that the federal government would not give such a large subsidy to these future transportation projects, meaning that the state would have to pay a larger share.
Del. Susan Aumann, R-Baltimore County, said that recent figures have showed that only a small percentage of people utilize transit systems.
“I’m concerned we are putting so much money on mass transit when ridership may be decreasing,” she said.
Martin, Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley and several other delegates said that transit ridership is actually increasing – but so are transit construction costs.