Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What ACT is Not Telling You About Rich Madaleno

Action Committee for Transit (ACT) and a blogger who sits on its board have launched a double-barreled attack on Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) alleging that he is anti-transit and only wants to build toll lanes for the wealthy. Are they right?

On June 5, ACT released a statement accusing Madaleno of “opposition to new bus rapid transit and light rail lines.” Greater Greater Washington blogger Cavan Wilk followed with a post mimicking the statement on which he failed to disclose that he is an ACT Board Member. In addition, ACT and Wilk accuse Madaleno of supporting $800 million high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on I-95 north of Baltimore “to subsidize rich people’s commutes.”

ACT’s antipathy for Senator Madaleno is understandable given that he opposes the Purple Line. Your author disagrees with Madaleno’s position on that project. We believe light rail is the best option for the Purple Line and that the O’Malley administration will select it. If ACT and Wilk merely said that Madaleno opposes the Purple Line (as they did today), we would have no argument with them.

But they went further, saying he opposes all BRT and light rail projects and supports HOT lanes on I-95. Let’s deal with the latter issue first. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) controls all toll facilities in the state. MdTA and MDOT decide which, if any, toll projects are built. The legislature rarely votes on any individual projects and has not voted on HOT lanes for I-95. Madaleno has not introduced any legislation on the subject. ACT and Wilk have no evidence from Madaleno’s record as a legislator to support their allegation. Furthermore, even if Madaleno did support HOT lanes, that would not make him an enemy of transit. To the extent that HOT lanes are financed by the tolls they generate, they do not threaten other transportation projects.

The evidence cited by ACT and Wilk that Madaleno opposes all BRT and light rail projects is this excerpt from his testimony on the Purple Line last fall:

Quite frankly, the state does not have the resources to pay for any of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Rail Transit (LRT) options. Over the past decade, the only major new construction projects the state has moved forward with have been funded primarily with toll-backed revenue bonds. There are no alternative funding mechanisms available for this project. As a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, I feel confident in reporting that no new revenue options appear politically feasible in the foreseeable future.
Senator Madaleno never said that he opposes all BRT or light rail projects. He merely said the state does not currently have the money for them. That is a fact. Senator Ed DeGrange (D-32), Chairman of the Senate Capital Budget Subcommittee, told Maryland Commons this week, “I do not see any growth in revenue for transportation in the near future and we may see further declines and budget reductions.” Your author has bludgeoned the Lords of Annapolis for not sufficiently funding transportation again and again and again and again and again with NO aid from ACT or Cavan Wilk. Where were they when the O’Malley administration cut transportation funding by $1.1 billion last fall? This blog criticized the administration twice for it while ACT and Wilk did not utter a peep. Instead, Wilk actually praised the Governor for supporting the Purple Line six weeks after his administration cut the project’s financing by 19% (and cut money for the Corridor Cities Transitway by nearly half). Why do ACT and Wilk leave O’Malley alone while slamming Senator Madaleno, who had nothing to do with these cuts?

ACT is essentially criticizing Madaleno for telling the truth about the state’s sorry performance on transportation funding. If we bash our politicians for telling the truth, they will only be encouraged to lie.

Let’s examine Senator Madaleno’s actual record on transportation. Following is a list of the pro-transit and pro-transportation bills Rich Madaleno has sponsored over his years in the General Assembly. For whatever reason, ACT and Cavan Wilk have either not compiled or not released this record.

HB 1157 2003: Constitutional amendment to prevent raids on the Transportation Trust Fund.

HB 981 2006: Creates a mass transit account within the Transportation Trust Fund.

HB 1345 2006: Requires MDOT to study operating and capital funding needs for transit.

SB 31 2007 Special session: Raises the gas tax by 5 cents.

SB 461 2007: Requires MDOT to issue transit passes to training organizations for low-income people. Became law.

SB 444 2009: Requires the Maryland Transit Administration to study adding a new MARC station near the Walter Reed annex in Forest Glen. Lead sponsor.

SB 722 2009: Raises the gas tax by 5 cents. Lead and only sponsor.

SB 273 2009, SB 276 2009 and SB 280 2009: Governor O’Malley’s smart growth package. Became law.

SB 539 2009: Sets goal for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 2036.

Senator Madaleno also wrote a blog post on gas tax indexing and said this after his election as Chairman of the Montgomery Senate Delegation:

Finally, I plan to lead the delegation in a discussion concerning the future of transportation funding in our state and region. The last year has highlighted the growing volatility in the revenue sources that support the transportation trust fund. While we may not agree on every project, we need to explore new ways to provide financial stability to the trust fund and to ensure that we have the resources to meet our significant transportation infrastructure needs.
So let’s see. If Senator Madaleno had his way, the state would have a constitutional amendment to protect the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) from raids. The TTF would have a separate account reserved for mass transit and MDOT would have a solid cost estimate for transit needs across the state. The gas tax would be raised and indexed for inflation, thus providing more funds for all manner of transportation projects. Forest Glen Seminary would have a new MARC station and the state would set a goal for reducing VMT by 2036. Few state legislators, if any, can match this record. But Action Committee for Transit and Cavan Wilk do not reveal any of this and would have us believe that Madaleno is anti-transit. Good grief!

Here’s a tip for starry-eyed transit advocates: pragmatism pays. Senator Madaleno disagrees with us on the Purple Line. He won’t change his mind and we won’t change ours. But he is the Chairman of Montgomery’s Senate Delegation and he can be a powerful ally on transportation funding.

ACT and its followers have a choice. They can work with legislators like Madaleno on raising more money for transportation, without which the Purple Line will never be built. Or they can post sloppy propaganda, engage in fruitless battles and watch transit projects sink into penniless oblivion. We hope they choose the former option.

Disclosure: The author is Treasurer of the District 18 Democratic Team, which includes Senator Rich Madaleno.