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Toll reduction a positive signal [Editorial]

Politics can often be about symbolic gestures. And we'd have to categorize the Maryland Transportation Authority board's decision to reduce tolls statewide as one of those.

On Thursday, at the urging of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, the board approved the first reduction in highway and bridge tolls in nearly 50 years. The reductions will be realized mostly by E-ZPass drivers, though the change most visible to motorists will be the $2 round-trip cut to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll. Starting July 1, the new fee to cross the bridge will be $4.Overall, these toll reductions will cut about $54 million from state coffers that will stay in drivers' pockets.

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The tolls were hiked a few years ago because previous governors raided the transportation safety fund to cover budget shortfalls. This past session, the Legislature put those funds in a lockbox, though a super majority of the Legislature can still find a way to get access. Hogan's way of limiting access, it would seem, is to make sure that the money doesn't make it there in the first place.

Democratic leaders, such as Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, who told The Baltimore Sun that Hogan's change was "good politics but bad policy," criticized the reduction, saying it would make it more difficult to address infrastructure issues, such as fixing deteriorated roads and bridges. Hogan, in response, said the negative reaction from many state legislators "sounds like a lot of whining."

In the context of politics, we're not surprised by either reaction.

But six months after voters rejected the status quo by electing the Republican Hogan in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, we're stunned that anyone would have expected anything less. Voters backed Hogan in large part because they saw Maryland as a state that needed much better fiscal management. Hogan vowed to find ways to put more money back in taxpayers' pockets. Cutting tolls across the state is a good step in that direction.

Will this one decision correct years of reckless spending in Annapolis? Of course not. But it is symbolic. And that, we hope, is a sign of a more prudent government to come.

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