The Democrats in the legislature are in full howl over the governor's call to repeal the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, more accurately dubbed as the "road kill" bill. The bill itself changes the way the Maryland Department of Transportation prioritizes transportation projects for funding. Prior to the road kill bill, MDOT and the local counties were responsible for this process. Now, MDOT must follow the General Assembly Democrats' funding priorities, regardless of whether the professional transportation staffs at MDOT and the counties disagree.
The road kill bill imposes 31 specific "goals and measures" that MDOT must use to rank projects for funding. Ironically, none of those 31 factors is to reduce traffic congestion. Isn't one of the most important goals of MDOT to reduce traffic congestion? I say ironically because the bill's defenders point to Virginia's law as justification for Maryland's. Virginia's law includes six factors for consideration, the first of which is "congestion mitigation." Maryland's new law doesn't even use the term "congestion." While I'm sure that the bill's defenders will have many explanations for how the bill will reduce traffic congestion, the bottom line is that Virginia's legislators made that their No. 1 priority, and it's not even stated as a Top 31 priority for Maryland's General Assembly Democrats.
Regardless of the wisdom of any legislative body mandating 31 "goals and measures" to figure out if traffic backups on Route 50 or I-695 need a fix, the Democrats in the General Assembly complain that Gov. Larry Hogan is mischaracterizing the bill. The governor maintains that the bill will prevent him from funding critical projects to reduce traffic congestion, such as roads and bridges, in favor of more expensive transit projects used by fewer Marylanders. The General Assembly Democrats counter by asserting that their legislation is not binding and MDOT can refuse to fund projects rated more highly under the General Assembly Democrats' criteria.
If we accept the argument promoted by the General Assembly Democrats, they passed a meaningless bill. If the governor and MDOT do not have to follow their funding priority scheme, then why'd they pass it in the first place? If you listen to the General Assembly Democrats' words more closely, something else is going on. Buried deep at the bottom of Transportation Article 2.103-7(D)(3) is the answer. The transportation experts at MDOT and the governor can only choose to overrule the General Assembly Democrats' pet funding priorities (insert "Red Line" here) if they provide in writing a "rational basis for the decision." This is code language for the General Assembly Democrats' and their friends at the trial lawyer bar to tie up every project they don't like for years while the majority of Marylanders sit in traffic.
Not content simply to help their trial lawyer friends, the General Assembly Democrats' threw in some other goodies they don't talk about publicly. For example, did you know that according to the Department of Legislative Services it will take at least six more MDOT staff members and $2.4 million to implement the General Assembly Democrats' scheme? Do we really need more MDOT staff to do the job they were already capably doing? And wouldn't that $2.4 million be better spent on a road or bridge? I have a hunch on how most Marylanders' would answer this question.
The road kill bill is another example of the General Assembly Democrats' partisan overreach, solely on the basis that the governor is of a different political party. Most Marylanders seem to agree that the governor's approach is helping them with important qualify of life issues, from education to transportation, regardless of whether that is popular with the General Assembly Democrats. Perhaps in two years Marylanders will decide that re-electing Governor Hogan and electing more Republicans to the General Assembly will end this type of legislative pettiness once and for all.
Dirk Haire is the incoming chair of the Maryland Republican Party; his email is DHaire@foxrothschild.com.