Enough with the non-repeal of the non-road kill bill

The 'road kill bill' drama in Annapolis is taking on a snake-swallowing-its-tail absurdity.

Before we get into the latest snake-swallowing-its-tail ridiculousness of Annapolis, we wish to reiterate that we have never cared much one way or the other about the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, or the "road kill bill," as Gov. Larry Hogan likes to call it.

When it was first proposed, we called it a "nothing-burger" and argued against its passage. We didn't get all that worked up about it, though, because its only effect is to add some more steps to the already robust process by which the Department of Transportation has long set its spending priorities for new capital projects and to create a ranking system that the governor could ignore as he sees fit.

Thus, it didn't make much sense to us — from a policy standpoint, anyway — that Governor Hogan acted as if it was a threat to the very foundations of our republic. It makes even less sense, then, that the Senate is now considering a bill to delay the non-impact of the legislation for another two years.

This is all politics. The bill followed Governor Hogan's deplorable decision to kill the proposed Red Line light rail in Baltimore, but it wouldn't prevent him from doing something like that again. It would just potentially embarrass him if he spent the money instead on a lower-ranked project. (Not that the lack of a previously existing scoring system has stopped anyone from criticizing him for it.)

Mr. Hogan's subsequent claim that the transportation scoring bill would "immediately terminate" more than five dozen road projects across the state and instead funnel nearly all of Maryland's transportation spending to a few large jurisdictions was baloney, too. The claim was based on a scoring system his own transportation department devised, and it ignores the clear advice of the attorney general's office, which maintains — as the law clearly states — that the governor can fund lower ranked projects so long as he provides a rational basis for it. A desire not to concentrate most transportation spending in one part of the state seems pretty rational to us.

But Governor Hogan does love his catchy and absurdly misleading epithets for legislation passed by Democrats, and the man who rode the "rain tax" to the governor's mansion surely saw the potential in something he could call the "road kill bill."

Democrats, or at least Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, clearly see that potential, too. At the beginning of this year's General Assembly session, Senator Miller floated the idea of some sort of compromise, perhaps removing the requirement that the governor offer a public justification for funding a lower-ranked project. Put another way, he suggested a scenario in which the legislature could get the governor to shut up about this law without actually taking the political hit inherent in repealing it. The thrust of the effort became clearer in legislation that would delay implementation of the law so that it could be studied for two years by a committee of legislators and administration officials. Two years, surely not coincidentally, would put us past the next gubernatorial election.

But if Senator Miller thinks such a move would dissuade our relentlessly on-message governor from playing the situation to his advantage, he really hasn't been paying attention.

Mr. Hogan could either ignore the legislature's "compromise" and keep cramming the phrase "road kill bill" into every conceivable sentence between now and the close of polls on Nov. 6, 2018, or, perhaps more likely, he could claim that he forced the legislature to capitulate. That's what he did when he crowed about the legislature's "repeal" of the "rain tax," which was not a repeal of something that was not a tax on rain. We got a preview of that strategy this week when The Sun's story "Maryland Senate committee crafts compromise on transportation scoring law" was posted on the governor's Facebook page with the doctored headline "Maryland Senate Committee Approves Road Kill Repeal W/Amendments." (A spokesman for the governor said staffers were copying language from the Maryland Republican Party's Facebook page, and the headline was corrected after The Sun inquired about it.)

Can we stop the madness here? This legislation would neither do anything terribly good nor terribly bad. If legislators want to repeal it, then repeal it. If they want to keep it, then forget this business about delaying its non-effect for two years. The less time spent arguing about it, the better.

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