Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Big Daddy, Busch: No More Free E-ZPasses (Updated)

Angry state legislators are marking this blog for deletion after one of their most cherished perks has been pulled by their masters: free E-ZPasses. Here’s the E-ZScoop.

Early this year, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) voted to impose fees on E-ZPass holders, prompting a mass switch to cards issued by other states. Last month, your author found out that state legislators could get free E-ZPasses, and 128 out of 188 took advantage of the opportunity. But MdTA refused to tell us who held the passes, citing “privacy and security issues.”

So we filed the following Public Information Act request in the first week of September:

Honorable Beverley K. Swaim-Staley
Acting Chairwoman, Maryland Transportation Authority
2310 Broening Highway, Suite 150
Baltimore, MD 21224

Dear Chairwoman Swaim-Staley:

This is a request under the Maryland Public Information Act, State Government Article § § 10-611 to 628. I wish to inspect all records in your custody and control pertaining to the following:

1. A complete list of all state legislators, both current and former, with “non-revenue,” i.e. free, E-ZPass accounts.

2. A list of any former state legislators who continue to possess non-revenue E-ZPass accounts after leaving office.

3. The total amount of toll revenues the state would have collected if these accounts had been revenue-generating for each account.

4. The legal authority used by the Maryland Transportation Authority as a basis for distributing non-revenue accounts to state legislators.

5. A description of the accounting controls used by the Maryland Transportation Authority to ensure that the non-revenue accounts possessed by state legislators are used only for official business.

If all or any part of this request is denied, I request that I be provided with a written statement of the grounds for the denial. If you determine that some portions of the requested records are exempt from disclosure, please provide me with the portions that can be disclosed.

I also anticipate that I will want copies of some or all of the records sought. Therefore, please advise me as to the cost, if any, for obtaining a copy of the records and the total cost, if any, for all the records described above. If you have adopted a fee schedule for obtaining copies of records and other rules or regulations implementing the Act, please send me a copy.

I look forward to receiving disclosable records promptly and, in any event, to a decision about all of the requested records within 30 days. Thank you for your cooperation. If you have any questions regarding this request, please telephone me at 301-XXX-XXXX.


Adam Pagnucco
Author, Maryland Politics Watch
MdTA has not yet responded to this request.

On September 25, Senate President Mike “Big Daddy” Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch sent this letter to the members of the General Assembly revoking their free E-ZPasses. We apologize for the poor quality of the copy, but our sources probably smuggled it out of Annapolis under cover of darkness. Clearly, you were not supposed to know about this.

As you can imagine, this is not going down real well. One legislator texted your author immediately upon receipt of the letter, saying, “Congratulations Adam ‘Recession’ Pagnucco!” This comes on top of grumbling over giving up pay to match furloughed state employees. After we posted a press release from the District 15 Delegation announcing their giveback of eight days’ pay, several legislators contacted us to complain that they were giving up that amount or more with no fanfare. “I’m not putting out a press release just because I’m doing the right thing!” one fumed.

But the Hypocrites of the Week award belongs to the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus, who have made great hay over the E-ZPass fee uprising by accusing the Governor of breaking his promise not to “nickel and dime” Marylanders. How many Senate Republicans were carrying free E-ZPasses at the time of that attack?

We’ll find out. Because while we congratulate Big Daddy and the Speaker for revoking a needless perk, our Public Information Act request is still pending. The answers are coming.

And any legislators who have been criticizing spending and perks while pocketing a free E-ZPass should beware.

Update: NBC4 and the Post have picked up the story and have generously credited this blog. The Sun also wrote about it but does not mention us.