Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bob Ehrlich: The Anti-MoCo Candidate, Part One

Recently, the Gazette noted how Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich’s positions were “risking Montgomery County votes.” House Majority Leader Kumar Barve remarked, “I think [Ehrlich has] given up on Montgomery County… I think he’s looked at the numbers, and from a political standpoint giving up on Montgomery County is probably a smart move for him.”

The article understates its point. Ehrlich’s positions are not just unattractive to county residents. In fact, when combined as a whole, they constitute the most blatantly anti-MoCo platform of any statewide candidate in recent memory.

Consider the following items in Ehrlich’s platform.

The Purple Line and Transportation

Ehrlich repeated his long-standing support for bus rapid transit instead of light rail for the Purple Line in May. That support is connected to his alliance with the Columbia Country Club, which opposes the Purple Line because it would cut through its golf course.

Let’s consider the facts in evaluating Ehrlich’s opposition to light rail. In January 2009, we examined the state’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and found the following:

1. Most light rail options are faster than the bus options.

2. Light rail carries more people per day.

3. Light rail costs more than buses, but relative to users, the cost effectiveness differences are not as large. The most cost effective bus option is the one Ehrlich resists: running buses in county-owned right-of-way through the golf course. That exposes Ehrlich’s support for buses as not being connected to public welfare, but rather to the welfare of the country club. As Ehrlich’s former Secretary of Transportation said in 2003, “The governor happens to love golf.”

So why does Ehrlich say he opposes rail? He told the Post, “You have to be honest with people, and the honesty is the dollars aren’t there.” Why is it that the dollars were there for the ICC, which was started on Ehrlich’s watch, but they are not there for the Purple Line?

To his credit, Governor Martin O’Malley pushed the General Assembly to index the gas tax in 2007. They chose to raise the titling tax and devote part of the sales tax increase to transportation instead, which yielded little new funding for transportation. O’Malley continues to favor indexing the gas tax, an approach that will raise more money when gas prices inevitably go up. Ehrlich has no ideas for new revenue and his sales tax cut would cost the Transportation Trust Fund $48 million per year, a number he calls “manageable.” By cutting transportation money and then saying we cannot afford worthy transportation projects, Ehrlich is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that will doom MoCo to endless congestion.

We have expressed considerable frustration with the Lords of Annapolis for not adequately funding transportation in the past. But there is a big difference between O’Malley and Ehrlich on this issue. O’Malley has tried to increase transportation funding and has set high goals for both the Red Line and the Purple Line. He also has a record of protecting transit funding of all kinds. Ehrlich has thrown up his hands and openly tells us we deserve less. Such a position demonstrates that he does not understand our transportation problems and, in fact, does not care. On this issue, Ehrlich is the anti-MoCo candidate.

But there is more. We continue tomorrow.