Towns need transportation tax dollars [Letter]

We appreciate The Baltimore Sun editorial board discussing the plight of local governments in a recent editorial on transportation infrastructure spending ("Transportation taxes again?" Feb. 24). As the article correctly states, funding for local transportation projects, such as filling potholes on Main Streets throughout the state, was entirely left out of last year's gas tax hike as part of a larger transportation funding package.

For nearly 70 years, cities and towns could reasonably rely on the state-legislated Highway Users Revenue distribution formula when preparing their budgets and planning for transportation projects. Unlike so many of the other state taxpayer dollars their residents contribute, these dedicated transportation dollars helped to assure local residents that at least some of the taxes they paid to the state would come back to their cities and towns in the form of new roads, crosswalks and basic transportation infrastructure maintenance.

When drastic cuts to the formula were first instituted in 2008, local governments and their residents began to lose confidence in that assurance. Last year, the state exacerbated the situation by making clear the intention that all new transportation revenues should go to state-owned mass transit projects, new state highways, and state-controlled roadways and bridges. Local governments are still left with huge deficits in transportation funding under this approach.

Highway Users Revenue that was to be dedicated for municipal road projects has now been severely unfunded for the past six years and, as a result of these cuts, many badly needed road repairs and other vital projects in cities and towns all around the state have been backlogged or left undone.

While county governments may be able to shift funds and raise revenue from a menu of sources, municipalities are unable to do so. As a result, the impact of the state funding cuts will be most apparent on the streets of small towns and cities all across Maryland. For example, while The Sun's editors seemed buoyed by the notion that the Highway Users Revenue reductions spared cuts to K-12 education, it should be noted that municipalities do not collect revenues for or spend local monies on education.

As the O'Malley administration is quick to point out, Maryland is on the road to economic recovery. The statewide transportation revenue package that was passed last year to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for state projects should have been more than sufficient to restore the relatively modest amount of HUR designated for municipal road projects. We doubt many motorists out there after this long, harsh winter would be much in favor of simply ignoring the thousands of potholes that remain unfilled all across the state.

The Maryland Municipal League is hopeful cities and towns can be part of a discussion with the next administration and General Assembly to fix the broken HUR distribution formula and restore funding to local governments, once and for all.

Michael E. Bennett, Aberdeen

The writer is chair of the Maryland Municipal League Legislative Committee and mayor of Aberdeen.

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