Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The State Delegation and the Politics of the ICC

MPW friend and staffer for Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) Patrick T. Metz left this comment on our recent post on transportation funding:

Re: “One sentiment united every person in the meeting: an absolute disdain for the county’s statehouse delegation. NO ONE credited them for bringing back adequate infrastructure funding from the state.” [This is a quote from our previous post.]

Without speaking to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of building the ICC, it seems to me that it's a pretty substantial percentage of state transportation spending over the next decade.
Patrick’s point is a logical one and deserves some analysis. The ICC is indeed a very large project. Shouldn’t our state delegation receive credit for it from the standpoint of bringing back transportation dollars to the county?

First, let’s understand the ICC’s funding structure. The project’s total cost is budgeted at $2.4 billion. Of that amount, $1.23 billion is from toll-backed revenue bonds, $750 million is from GARVEE bonds (which are backed by future federal aid), $264.9 million is from Maryland’s general fund, $180 million is from Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and $18.5 million is from direct federal aid. That means that just $463.4 million, or 19% of the project’s cost, is coming from direct expenditures. The remainder consists of borrowed money (though some of that will draw from future federal aid).

How much of the state’s total transportation budget is taken up by the ICC? That depends on how you calculate the numbers. In the aftermath of its recent cuts, the state is spending $9.4 billion on transportation projects over the next six years. In terms of raw percentage, the ICC accounts for 26% of all state transportation spending. But remember that 81% of the project’s cost is paid for by toll and GARVEE bonds. If bond financing is set aside and only TTF, general fund and direct federal aid are counted, then the ICC’s $463.4 million would account for 6% of the state’s transportation spending.

Regardless of its percentage of state spending, it is unlikely that any of the county’s constituencies will point to the ICC as a parochial triumph of MoCo’s needs over the rest of the state. Let’s examine two contrasting points of view.

Much of the county’s business community has been supportive of the ICC. Under its former leadership, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce made the project one of its top goals. However, business does not see the ICC as merely a Montgomery project, but one that conveys economic benefits to the state as a whole. By connecting western Montgomery to Prince George’s, Howard, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore and its suburbs, their argument holds that the ICC creates more mobility of goods, services and labor all across Maryland. An analogy might be a hypothetical terminal expansion at BWI Airport. Should such a project be judged as only conveying localized benefits to northern Anne Arundel County or as an infrastructure project with broad statewide benefits? So while business may continue to support the ICC, they will not see it strictly in terms of fulfilling a narrow county-focused priority.

The civic and environmental communities increasingly view the ICC as a disaster. Destruction of homes, encouragement of greenhouse gases, damage to greenspace, increased traffic, incentives for more sprawl – all of these arguments and more combine to produce a seething stew of unrest. Silliness such as the MoCo Planning Board’s characterization of a parallel bike path as harmful to parkland only fuels the opposition. The ICC may be the least-appreciated large transportation project in the history of Maryland.

So let’s suppose a state legislator uses Patrick’s argument on skeptical constituents: you may not think we’ve received enough on transportation funding, but at least we brought you the ICC. Business will say it’s a good start, but not enough by itself. Civic and environmental activists will react like a starving man who is thrown a bucket of rotten eggs. Don’t you pity our delegation, even just a little bit?

But those who support and oppose the ICC agree on one thing: no one project will solve all of Montgomery’s transportation woes. The differing geographies of the county (especially with regard to Metro access), different levels of density and commuter pattern pressures from both inside and outside the county demand a combination of projects – and a reliable funding source for them. Who is going to step up?