Thursday, May 27, 2010

O’Malley vs. Ehrlich on Transit Spending

The Post and the Sun both remarked on former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s preference for bus over rail on the Purple Line last week. Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration picked light rail for the project. But the difference between the two candidates on transit goes much further than that.

Ehrlich’s opposition to rail on the Purple Line and his friendship with project opponents in the Columbia Country Club is a matter of public record. We summarized it in an April 2008 blog post:

The Columbia Country Club has a long history of fighting the Purple Line. Between 2001 and 2006, four of the club’s current officers – President McNamara, First Vice President Joseph J. Brigati, Second Vice President Eugene A. Carlin and Secretary Martin Wiegand II – collectively contributed $4,600 to former Governor Robert Ehrlich and $550 to Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie. (One can only imagine how much more was donated by the club’s full membership.) In September 2003, Ehrlich reciprocated, declaring that the Purple Line “will not go through the Country Club.” Robert Flanagan, his Transportation Secretary, explained, “The Governor happens to love golf.”

At the same time, then-District 18 Delegate and Chevy Chase resident John Hurson struck a deal with Ehrlich to route buses along Jones Bridge Road as a substitute for the Purple Line. In return, Hurson reversed his position on slots from opposition to support, matching Ehrlich’s agenda, and was promptly rewarded with a fundraiser by racetrack owner William Rickman Sr. Hurson and Ehrlich’s arrangement infuriated many Montgomery County politicians but no doubt delighted the country club’s members.
But that is not all. The transportation spending decisions made by Governors Ehrlich and O’Malley while in office have been very different. Consider this chart on the six-year transportation capital spending plans promulgated by the two Governors that we published in September. The plans starting in Fiscal Years 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 were drafted by the Ehrlich administration. The plans starting in Fiscal Years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were drafted by the O’Malley administration.

In the Ehrlich years, transit capital spending through MTA and WMATA accounted for 27-29% of all transportation capital spending. Under O’Malley, transit spending hit 35% in his last two years. O’Malley boosted transit’s share by largely protecting the capital budgets of both MTA and WMATA while applying transportation cuts mostly to roads. The Democrats have been inexcusably slow to finance new transportation projects, but Ehrlich – who is running on a sales tax cut – would be even worse.

O’Malley is far from perfect. The Post and Greater Greater Washington were right to criticize his administration for recently holding back a capital payment to WMATA. But looking at the overall record, the contest for Governor presents a very easy choice for transit advocates.