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Editorial: Dedicate surplus to roads

Last week's press release from the Comptroller's Office on the state ending the last fiscal year with a surplus has some people already fighting over what to do with the extra money, but investing the money in projects that would bring jobs, help local communities and pump needed lifeblood back into the economy should be the priority.

Comptroller Peter Franchot last week noted the fragile state of the economy, and he urged that the money be placed in the state's rainy day fund.

"Given the challenges business and families face in the midst of a state economy that appears to have lost momentum in recent months, I believe this money should remain in the state's coffers to help cushion Maryland from another economic downturn, and not be put back into the state's spending pattern," Franchot said.

That's sound advice, but putting the money away to help pay for the state's ongoing structural deficit could backfire if lawmakers rely on that to fill the gap when, instead, they should be focused on ways to close the gap for good. Using a one-time windfall for ongoing expenses isn't going to solve the problem down the road.

Others are already complaining about tax hikes imposed in the last session, saying the surplus shows that the so-called doomsday budget and threats of deep cuts were unnecessary.

There's merit to that claim as well, except we are still coming out of a recession, and the path out has been in fits and starts. Not finding ways to pay the bills and just hoping that things would get better isn't a sound fiscal plan for moving forward, and ignoring the possibility of budget shortfalls only would have put us in a worse position had revenues continued to track lower than expected.

One suggestion for the unexpected additional income, however, could prove beneficial.

Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson, managing director for Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a press release that the state should dedicate the money to transportation projects.

Anderson was a member of Maryland's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding. He noted that the commission found the state has borrowed almost $1 billion from the Transportation Trust Fund that has not been repaid. The commission also recommended that the state provide at least $870 million in additional revenue annually for transportation.

Local communities have seen their transportation funding slashed in recent years. In addition, the state has been woefully negligent on improving transportation infrastructure even as it has continued to raid the fund to help balance the budget.

It's time for the state to start investing in transportation projects. Not only will it help improve roads, but the state's economy will benefit from the jobs that the additional work will bring, providing a much-needed boost to our state's economy at a time when many areas are still struggling.

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