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Voter opinion mixed on ballot questions

Early voters at the Westminster Senior and Community Center last week had mixed reactions to two questions on the ballot that, if passed, will amend the state's constitution to make it more difficult for future governors to reallocate appropriated for transportation projects, and require special elections to fill county executive offices in charter government counties.

Voters who cast ballots in the Tuesday, Nov. 4, gubernatorial election will see the two questions in addition to races for governor, sheriff, board of education and others.

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Question 1, an amendment approved by the General Assembly last year, seeks to ensure money in Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund will be used for transportation-related bond payment and construction and repair of highways.

A common practice by governors since Harry Hughes in the 1980s has been to transfer money from the fund to the general fund to help balance the state budget.

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If Question 2 is passed, it would authorize, but not require, special elections to be called to fill vacancies in the office of county executive in counties that have charter home rule government. On Dec. 1, when Frederick County's charter government goes into effect, this amendment will apply to 10 of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland. It will not apply to Carroll County, which has a county commissioner form of government.

Though many early voters Wednesday morning declined to discuss the questions, some provided insight on the complicated issues.

William Francis Rill, of Manchester, said though a lot of information was given for each question, he chose to leave those boxes blank.

"I didn't vote because I just don't know anything about the topics," Rill said.

Considering that Question 2 doesn't apply to Carroll County, it is not difficult to understand Rill's reaction. Ballots statewide are required to include this question, even though it doesn't apply to a majority of counties because if passed it will become state law. It could affect any county that ends up switching to a charter form of government, as Frederick County is in the process of doing.

Tony McClain, of Eldersburg, said he voted yes on Question 1.

Question 1 has been described by some as a "lockbox" that will protect the approximately $4.6 billion Transportation Trust Fund, which is financed with revenue from gas taxes, title taxes, vehicle registrations and other dedicated sources. If it is passed, the only way for a governor to use the transportation fund for other purposes would be to declare a fiscal emergency and ask the Maryland General Assembly pass legislation approving such a decision by 3/5 majority vote in both the House and the Senate.

"[The transportation fund] is where the money is needed and that's where it should stay," McClain said. "I like lockboxes."

As for Question 2, he said he was on the edge, but chose to vote yes.

"I decided to let the people decide, even though it doesn't apply to Carroll," he said.

Ed and Susan Neighoff, of Mounty Airy, said they voted no on both questions. Ed Neighoff said the transportation fund amendment would not allow for easy access to this money if the government needed it.

"There has to be some flexibility," he said.

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He said he voted no on Question 2 because those counties which have adopted charter government should have officials in place who can handle the duties of the vacant executive officer or county executive position.

"Plus, special elections cost a lot of money," Ed Neighoff said.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

What it means

Question 1 seeks to ensure the money in the state's $4.6 billion Transportation Trust Fund is only used for transportation-related bond payments and highway construction and repair.

If voters select yes: Governors who wish to access these funds for projects unrelated to transportation must declare a fiscal emergency and receive the support of a 3/5 majority vote in both the House and the Senate before any money can be transferred out of the fund.

If voters select no: The governor will retain the authority to transfer money out of the fund without the consent of the General Assembly, something every governor has done since Harry Hughes in the 1980s.

Question 2 would authorize, but not require, counties that have adopted charter government to hold special elections to fill vacancies in the office of county executive or executive officer. This question does not apply to Carroll County because it has a county commissioner form of government, but is required on all ballots because if passed it will become a state law.

If voters select yes: If a vacancy opens in a county with charter government, it will have the option to hold an election to select a new executive.

If voters select no: Counties with charter government will not be allowed to call special elections to fill the vacancy.

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