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The state budget for fiscal 2011 came up for debate on the House of Delegates floor today, with a key difference in the language concerning Baltimore's proposed Red Line connecting Woodlawn and Bayview.

The Senate had included language instructing the Maryland Transit Administration to conduct a full study of heavy rail and alternate paths for the Red Line -- as well as the Washington-area Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway projects. The House rejected that language. The matter will have to be hashed out in a conference committee next week. (Maryland Politics Watch has a good article on this subject.)

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One of the key reasons was that by lumping in the Washington-area projects with the more controversial Red Line, the Seante would expose them to delays as well.

My bet is that the House will prevail on this because the Senate language -- while it seemed to give groups such as the Transit Riders Action Council everything they want -- was essentially hollow. While calling for a "full study," the Senate provided no money to do so.

A "full study," in transportation terms, is neither inexpensive nor quick. It's an exhaustive process that can take years. In addition, the MTA contends it already gave heavy rail -- a subway like the current Metro --  all the study it merited. An unfunded study would likely lead to nothing more than a restatement of the MTA's current position.

If any language regarding these transit lines is adopted at all, it is likely to be so weak as to be meaningless. Additional language in the Senate bill requiring the MTA to come up with a payment plan 45 days after submitting plans for the projects to the federal government is also clearly a nonstarter unless the intent to to block all three -- a highly doubtful prospect given that Baltimore and the  Washington suburbs both have stakes in the projects moving forward. That's simply too soon in the process to put money on the table. That won't happen until the feds have rendered a decision.

Meanwhile, the House also rejected budget language that would divert almost $60 million a year that had been scheduled to go toward transportation starting in 2013 to the general fund. The Senate had proposed to cancel a planned increase in the percentage of the state sales tax going to transportation. Under current law, itransportation's share would go from 5.2 percent to 6.5 percent of the sales tax starting in the budget that begins July 1, 2013.

Once again, the House is in a stronger position here. For one thing, lawmakers know the Transportation Trust Fund is already in dire condition and will need a post-election transfusion. For another, the Senate is getting out front on an issue that needn't be dealt with this year. In the legislative game, indecision trumps decision whenever a decision isn't urgently required.

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