Friday, October 02, 2009

E-ZAnswers, Part Two

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) tried to protect the state legislators who carry the free E-ZPasses. They warned us of “privacy and security issues” when they refused to release the names back in August. But they have honored our Public Information Act request and have allowed the sunlight to shine through on one of the statehouse’s biggest perks.

Here is the List!

And here is an update from MdTA removing one Senator:

Geez Louise! Where do we begin? Here’s what jumps out at us.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)
Kramer is a millionaire developer who has dumped $220,450 of his own money into his last two political campaigns. Does he really need a free E-ZPass?

Labor Delegates
Six Delegates are union members or have worked for unions: Cheryl Glenn (D-45), who works for a regional council of the Carpenters; Tom Hucker (D-20), who founded Progressive Maryland and has worked for the Laborers; Kris Valderrama (D-26), who works for AFSCME; Veronica Turner (D-26), who is President of SEIU local 63; Gerron Levi (D-23A), who works for the AFL-CIO; and Brian McHale (D-46), who is an International Longshoreman’s Association member. All except Turner have free E-ZPasses. (Disclosure: your author has worked in the labor movement for 15 years and does not have a free E-ZPass.)

“Champions” of the Poor
According to data from the 2000 Census, only two state legislative districts in Maryland had 1999 median household incomes lower than $30,000: District 44 ($21,378) and District 40 ($25,641), both in Baltimore. These districts were the hardest hit by the state sales tax increase of two years ago. Four of their eight state legislators carry free E-ZPasses: Senator Verna Jones (D-44) and Delegates Frank Conaway (D-40), Ruth Kirk (D-44) and Shawn Tarrant (D-40). How can they justify their perks to the state’s poorest residents?

One of our Senators and thirteen of our twenty-four Delegates drive toll-free, including some of our most liberal members. We get no moral high ground this time.

Fifteen of the fifty Republicans in the General Assembly carry free E-ZPasses: Senator J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-38) and Delegates Joe Boteler (R-8), Don Dwyer (R-31), Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-37B), Richard Impallaria (R-7), Susan Krebs (R-9B), Susan McComas (R-35B), Patrick McDonough (R-7), Wayne Norman (R-35A), Donna Stifler (R-35A), Nancy Stocksdale (R-5A), Paul Stull (R-4A), Tanya Thornton Shewell (R-5A), Mary Roe Walkup (R-36) and the House Minority Leader, Tony O’Donnell (R-29C).

This is the worst hypocrisy of all. Over and over again, the Republicans have called for big spending cuts while jealously guarding their E-ZPerks. Here is O’Donnell on the House GOP website thundering, “There are some simple, obvious places to look for the true reductions in state spending that we have repeatedly called for…” Oh yeah? Like how about your own taxpayer-funded goodies? And if that’s not enough, O’Donnell had the gall to complain about toll hikes last January. Why complain if you don’t have to pay them?

This perk reflects poorly on state legislators of both parties and we commend the Senate President and Speaker for ending it. But at a time when budget cutters are hacking through the bones of the state’s general fund and our most vulnerable people are suffering, the Lords of Annapolis should be re-examining all of the creature comforts of their thrones.