Defying Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, the Democratic-led House of Delegates approved legislation Saturday that would create a system for ranking transportation projects — a plan the administration vehemently opposes.
The House voted 84-51, along party lines, after a debate that exposed the divisions between Democrats and Republicans and the urban and rural areas of Maryland.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which is considering a similar bill. The House margin, accounting for absentees, indicates House Democrats would be able to muster the 85 votes needed to override a veto.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller made the creation of a scoring system for highway and transit projects a top objective early in this year's legislative session. The proposal came after Hogan undertook a drastic revision in the state's transportation priorities last summer, canceling Baltimore's Red Line light rail project and shifting nearly $1 billion into road projects.
Hogan has fought the legislation with the full force of his office, predicting catastrophic consequences if it is adopted.
After the vote, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer released a statement saying the bill "has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with politics, weakening local decision making, and creating greater legislative control."
Mayer charged the scoring system would "create an incredibly unbalanced plan based on a formula developed behind closed doors and without real public input."
But proponents insist the Governor's Office has misrepresented the bill, pointing out that it leaves the final decision on whether to fund projects to the chief executive and the secretary of transportation.
"All it does is add in a set of criteria and say, score against these so citizens can have a chance ... to see how they score," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the environmental group, 1,000 Friends of Maryland. She said the hope is to make sure "we're using transportation dollars the best we can."
The bill would require the state transportation secretary to devise a scoring system taking into account a series of nine factors spelled out in the legislation — including safety considerations, economic benefits and environmental impact.
The bill would require the governor to provide a written explanation for the choice of a lower-scoring project over higher-scoring candidates.
Opponents claimed the scoring system would be weighted in favor of transit projects at the expense of highways and in favor of urban areas at the expense of rural and outer suburban areas.
Proponents said the system would bring transparency to the process of selecting projects for funding.
Republican lawmakers rejected assurances that the system would not force the cancellation of vital local projects.
"It's a usurpation of local authority. It's not right, and I would submit it is balderdash," said Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Carroll County Republican.
The measure was one of three transportation-related measures to pass the House Saturday. One, also opposed by the administration , would create an oversight board for the Maryland Transit Administration that would include appointees of Baltimore's mayor and regional county executives.
Another would double from $50 to $100 a tax credit for employers who provide transit benefits to their employees.