Hogan officials, analysts clash over Baltimore transit funds

The state's top legislative analyst said Tuesday that hundreds of millions of Maryland transportation funds are sitting unused after the cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line — prompting Baltimore lawmakers to call on the Hogan administration to earmark that funding for the city.

"If there is money that is not dedicated, there are possibilities for projects in Baltimore," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and the budget chief in the House of Delegates. "We want to have a transportation map that doesn't leave any jurisdiction off, including Baltimore. We need to get back on the Hogan map," she said.


But Hogan administration officials said that the analyst's figures are incorrect and that all state money freed up from the cancellation of the Red Line is now dedicated to highway and bridge projects elsewhere in Maryland. Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor, accused analysts in the Department of Legislative Services of misleading the public with phony numbers at the behest of Democrats, especially House Speaker Michael Busch.

"It's deeply concerning that during a very important discussion about the future of Baltimore's transit system, the speaker's analysts were busy concocting totally bogus numbers only intended to drive a known political agenda," Mayer said. "This is the second time in as many weeks that these analysts have gone out of their way to muddy the waters by purposefully misleading the press, the public, and both Democratic and Republican legislators. It's not productive and it needs to stop."


A spokeswoman for Busch categorically denied the charge. "Any member of the legislature, Republican or Democrat, knows that DLS is a nonpartisan agency. Regardless of party, anyone can request the facts," said Alexandra M. Hughes, Busch's deputy chief of staff. "The speaker did not request any information about this matter, nor is he aware of what the numbers are."

Warren Deschenaux, the top analyst for the legislative services department, declined to comment on Mayer's accusation and defended his agency's figures. "Those are the numbers we have. If there are secret numbers we don't have, we'll see about that," he said.

Conflict flared up after a contentious meeting Monday between city officials and Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn over alternatives to the Red Line, the proposed East-West light rail line that would have connected Woodlawn to East Baltimore.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced in June he was scrapping plans to build the project, calling it a boondoggle. He also announced a reduction in state funding to the Purple Line project for Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Hogan said he was shifting the state's share of the construction money to highway projects across Maryland, none of them in Baltimore.

After Monday's meeting between state and city officials, Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg asked General Assembly analysts how much mass transit money was now available based on the governor's moves.

Deschenaux replied that $339 million in "loose change" was now freed up.

"That Sec. Rahn did not know at today's meeting that there is $339 million available in the [capital budget for transportation] for improvements to the metropolitan Baltimore mass transit system raises grave doubt about the seriousness of the Hogan Administration's approach to this issue," Rosenberg wrote in an email to The Sun. "I hope I am proven wrong."

McIntosh suggested the money could be used to launch a Charm City Circulator bus in West Baltimore or a new train stop in East Baltimore, among other ideas. Del. Curt Anderson, another Baltimore Democrat, proposed building a segment of the Red Line just in West Baltimore.

Deschenaux, when pressed about the figure later, revised it downward but said the department still believes there is money to spend.

The analyst who crunched the numbers for the department was "working with early numbers and perhaps $100 million of our estimate of cash remaining is not available," Deschenaux wrote in an email. "That leaves over $200 million left to talk about, based on what we think we know now. This of course can be further revised if we get ... better information."

Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said there simply is no money left over after Hogan dedicated $1.35 billion in new projects for highways, bridges and system preservation to be undertaken in other parts of the state by 2018.

"There is no additional funding available," she said.


Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican, criticized the Department of Legislative Services.

"Legislators count on DLS giving them good information," she said. "It certainly looks like he got the Baltimore delegation wound up about canceling the Red Line — not that they needed to be more wound up."

The Maryland Transit Administration operates most of the public transportation in Baltimore and its suburbs, including the light rail, Metro and buses. Rahn pledged Monday to make Baltimore's much-maligned bus system run "much better" and to present a plan within 60 days.

Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said she believes the state has an "obligation to follow through on the public transportation needs of Baltimore City."

"The dollars attached to the Red Line project ought to remain dedicated to addressing these critical needs of Baltimore and the surrounding area," Libit said. "If Maryland is really going to be open for business, then the state needs to keep those dollars dedicated to ensuring that residents are able to reach jobs."

Anderson said he hoped it was true that hundreds of millions in capital funds are available for transportation projects. He noted the Hogan administration funded a list of transportation projects that excluded Baltimore.

"This money definitely should be earmarked for Baltimore," Anderson said. "If you looked at their map, there were projects in every jurisdiction. But Baltimore wasn't even on the map."

Hogan administration officials say the city will get increased money for transportation needs in the future. The governor proposes to increase allocations of highway user revenue funds distributed to local jurisdictions throughout the state above what former Gov. Martin O'Malley had proposed. That means that, if the General Assembly approves the plan, Baltimore would receive about $400 million more for its roads over the next six years, according to administration officials.

Other state transportation plans call for spending another $1.5 billion over six years in Baltimore, Henson said. Those projects include replacing 90 cars in the MTA's Metro Subway fleet, replacing the 65-year-old bus maintenance and operation facility at the Kirk Bus Division, and implementing new technology on buses to provide a true real-time bus arrival system, she said.


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