Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oregon Schools Maryland on Transportation

Last year, I wrote a series called “Crisis in Transportation” contrasting Maryland’s inability to finance its transportation infrastructure with Oregon’s plan to boost spending by a half-billion dollars per year. Months later, those two states have continued to diverge.

Maryland has happily accepted transportation money from the federal government (most of which is going to the Baltimore area) but has done little else. Delegate Bill Bronrott’s (D-16) bill to index the gas tax has attracted zero co-sponsors and is in limbo. Senator Rich Madaleno’s (D-18) bill to raise the gas tax by five cents has also attracted zero co-sponsors and has joined Bronrott’s bill in the abyss. Oregon jumpstarted its transportation plan by convening a large stakeholder taskforce (including many representatives from the business community) which issued a report outlining the state’s needs. Maryland has done no such thing. Instead, the state cut its transportation budget by $1.1 billion last fall (including double-digit cuts to the Purple Line and CCT), is cutting MARC service and is projecting another $2.5 billion in cuts. The state has no plan for financing its BRAC needs or finding money for its share of one of its three proposed transit lines. Montgomery County is now spending county money on state projects and other counties could well follow suit.

In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski sent his Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 to the state legislature. The act, based on the earlier stakeholder report, would raise a half-billion dollars every year for transportation, create a dedicated fund for transit and implement a pilot congestion fee project and other measures. It is projected to create 2,100 construction jobs annually. The Governor is also asking the legislature to consider a “mileage tax” as an eventual replacement for the gas tax. Under this tax, a GPS device installed in cars would calculate in-state miles traveled and charge a fee based on those miles at the gas pump. Representative Terry Beyer (D-12), Chair of the House Transportation Committee, predicted the legislature would pass an even larger gas tax increase than the Governor’s proposal of two cents.

Oregon’s efforts could yet fail. The legislature could disagree on both the financing composition and the amounts. But even Republicans acknowledge the need; House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna said, “I’m not absolutely saying no.” In Oregon, the Democrats have an 18-12 advantage in the Senate and a 36-24 advantage in the House. These are tighter margins than in Maryland (33-14 in the Senate and 104-36 in the House).

The point is that Oregon’s leadership recognizes their transportation problems and is trying hard to come up with a solution. Can anyone say the same of the state leadership in Maryland?