By Barry Rascovar
He’s at it again. Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. keeps promoting a phony story line to justify attacking Democratic lawmakers and scaring local officials into believing vital road projects are in grave jeopardy.
If that’s the case, why hasn’t the governor named those highway construction projects that are on the “kill list” because of those evil Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly?
He can’t do so because there’s no such animal. Hogan’s bluster is just that: hot air lacking factual back-up.
Last week, Hogan went before conventioneers at the Maryland Municipal League and tried to scare them out of their pants.
He told them “we cannot and will not let” the General Assembly’s Democratic majority hinder road and bridge repairs.
He did not give one example of such a dastardly deed.
Rally ’round the governor
Then he amped up the volume, declaring Municipal League members must rally ’round their governor to safeguard their local highway aid.
“We’re going to keep fighting to make sure these priority road projects in every jurisdiction continue to move forward,” Hogan said.
“But we need our municipal and our county officials, each and every one of you, to stand with us so our roads and highways don’t go back down a path of neglect and under-investment.”
So what is this despicable act perpetrated on local governments and its citizens by the Democratic legislature, according to Republican Hogan?
It centers on a bill passed this year by lawmakers forcing the state to rank all highway, bridge and transit projects costing more than $5 million that increase capacity. Structural deficiencies and urgent repairs are not included in this ranking.
Hogan vetoed the bill but Democrats easily overrode that veto.
These transportation projects will be rated according to nine objective metrics, such as how much each undertaking improves transportation safety, the economic benefits each project brings to the counties and state and each project’s impact (negative or positive) on the environment.
Hogan’s own transportation department will pick the measurement criteria and do the analysis, not some liberal do-gooder group.
Once the annual ranking is produced, that’s the end of the story.
Hogan need not follow this priority list. He can ignore it completely.
All he must do, under the law, is explain why he’s disregarding this objective listing of Maryland’s most important road, bridge and transit projects.
It’s a feel-good law lacking any teeth. There’s no enforcement provision. Hogan’s ability to pick and choose transportation winners and losers remains fully in place.
Had this law been in effect in 2015, Hogan still could have killed the Baltimore Red Line subway project and shifted those funds to rural highways where his most ardent supporters live. Nothing would have changed.
All the new law does is provide some welcome transparency. Finally, citizens will get a glimpse into a previously closed-door government process that historically has led to corruption and blatant political favoritism.
Finally, there will be a values-based rating of road, bridge and transit projects and a ranking of which ones score highest.
It could get uncomfortable
Does this endanger local officials’ favored road projects? Not at all. Hogan can still distribute road and bridge goodies as he chooses.
But the rankings may raise uncomfortable questions if county leaders are pushing for a project that scores extremely low.
Yet listening to Hogan’s rants one gets the impression a cataclysmic event is upon us.
He has called it a “terrible, terrible piece of legislation” that threatens “every bridge and every road” project in Maryland!
He has made the blanket statement – lacking concrete, follow-up proof: “We would have to kill pretty much all the road projects in 22 of the 24 jurisdictions. Every bridge and every road.”
Where’s the proof?
What’s missing are the names of those endangered projects. Until Hogan produces such a list of the road and transit projects he’s been forced to kill because of the new law, his words amount to political bombast.
One of the governor’s likely opponents in 2018, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz put the new law that Hogan keeps screaming about in perspective: “I think it’s fair for the General Assembly to ask how do you establish priority.”
Indeed it is. It’s time to remove some of the mystery surrounding the selection of road, bridge and transit projects and start telling the pubic why some road widenings go to the top of the list and others go to the bottom.
We’re not talking small potatoes here. Maryland’s six-year transportation program amounts to nearly $16 billion.
Shining a bit of sunshine on the selection process is long overdue.