While Harford County's overwhelmingly Republican legislators are marshaling forces to support Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's effort to repeal a transportation project funding scoring system that was approved over Hogan's loud objections last winter, the lone Democrat in the local delegation is saying: Not so fast.
Southern Harford Del. Mary Ann Lisanti says the scoring system, which Hogan and other critics have dubbed the "road kill bill," has merits and caused little, if no, adverse impact on Harford, because the local projects the critics say won't get funded, principally the widening of the Bel Air Bypass between Fallston and Hickory from two to four lanes and construction of a roundabout at Routes 7 and 159 in Perryman, were never in the state's plans to be funded, anyway.
Lisanti, whose district includes Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and the surrounding areas, called criticism of the scoring system "disingenuous."
"To tell the public that two projects are not gong to be funded is inaccurate... you can't lose something that you don't have," she said.
Lisanti said Harford County has received state funding for Route 22 improvements in Aberdeen as part of the BRAC process that brought more civilian workers to Aberdeen Proving Ground during the past decade.
But the Perryman roundabout, which supporters say is necessary to ease congestion in one of the region's densest industrial areas, has been an "afterthought," she said, and a long-term solution to congestion in Perryman would be extending Route 159 so it intersects with Route 40, taking pressure off Route 7.
"The bottom line is that projects on the Route 40 corridor and in the municipalities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace have a better chance of being funded," Lisanti said of the new system. "We have a higher density of population and more cars."
Most of Harford's other six delegates and its three state senators, all Republicans, say the "road kill bill" has to be killed in the 2017 legislative session which began last Wednesday and ends April 10.
Hogan, a Republican, spoke up against the transportation scoring system before the current session got started, listing its repeal as a major objective. The legislation creating the scoring system was approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly last year. The governor vetoed it, but the lawmakers easily overrode his veto.
Hogan has claimed the scoring system, which takes into account multiple factors about each project, including the size of the population that would benefit from it, puts his administration in a position of funding the projects in areas with the largest populations, such as the Washington, D.C., suburbs in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Southern Harford Del. Glen Glass echoed those sentiments.
"It takes money that would go to Harford County and it sends it to Montgomery County," said Glass, who like Lisanti represents the county's Route 40 corridor.
Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings, of Joppa, said in a statement that the rankings strip decision-making authority about transportation projects from the governor and local governments.
"One doesn't have to be a prophet to realize that mass transit and urban projects will score higher than rural roads," Jennings stated in an emailed newsletter about the start of the 2017 session.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman expressed concerns recently that the scoring system will make it even harder to get funding for the two Harford projects, the Bypass widening and the Perryman roundabout, which he noted had been studied and discussed – but not funded for construction – during much of the 16 years he spent as a state delegate and state senator before becoming county executive two years ago.
Glassman announced in his State of the County Address last week that he would pursue federal PILOT – Payment in Lieu of Taxes – funding for the roundabout.
Lisanti's office provided a copy of a letter written by Warren Deschenaux, executive director of the nonpartisan Maryland Department of Legislative Services, who noted 31 of 71 projects at risk of cancellation because of the scoring system – according to Hogan – are not funded in the state's draft Consolidated Transportation Plan for 2017 to 2022, including the two in Harford.
"An additional $761 million would be available over the fiscal 2017-2022 period covered by the Draft CTP were it not being held in reserve to increase Highway User Revenues going to local government," Deschenaux wrote in his Dec. 15, 2016 letter, which was addressed to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, both Democrats.
The director also noted Maryland Department of Transportation officials decreased spending for the current CTP by almost $1 billion, compared to the prior six-year plan, because of the state's "downward revisions in revenue estimates and increased spending assumptions."
"Based on this analysis, it would appear that the fiscal realities are likely to have a much bigger impact on MDOT's ability to include projects in the CTP than the requirement under the Act that major projects be assigned a score," Deschenaux wrote.
Regardless where they stand on the transportation scoring issues, the Harford legislators say they expect this will be a busy legislative session. It also will be the final one of their term without an election looming, as will be the case in 2018.
"It's going to be a busy session," Glass said. "It's going to be really busy."
Glass, has proposed a number of bills such as curtailing rate hikes for electric customers, allowing people who don't want a remotely-operated "smart meter" installed on their dwellings to be able to opt out at no cost, supporting funding for drug treatment and job training for nonviolent offenders who are in jail, plus he is co-sponsoring a bill that would make killing a police officer a hate crime.
"We have to make sure we're taking care of people in the state of Maryland," he said.
His one-man crusade against "smart meters," which critics claim are a safety hazard, have been torpedoed in prior sessions. While utility customers are able to opt out, but there is a fee involved.
Lisanti said she has an "aggressive" agenda, with goals such as working to increase the amount of Highway User Revenues coming to the county and municipalities, obtaining collective bargaining rights for Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies, increasing the compensation for people who serve on juries – they are paid $20 a day.
She also wants the state to look into a waterborne transportation network for the Chesapeake Bay, instead of a second bridge connecting the Eastern and Western Shore. Lisanti suggests the State Highway Administration consider using small commuter boats, that could get access to the shore via existing public water access points.
"It's environmentally sound, it's business friendly and it's cost effective," she said.
Del. Susan McComas, who represents the Bel Air area, has four bills that are ready for filing, including one allowing people who carry firearms for work, such as private detectives and security guards, to renew their gun permits at the same time their business licenses must be renewed and another prohibiting law enforcement from collecting, storing or sharing "certain captured data" from vehicles coming to or leaving a gun show without a warrant or evidence of illegal activity.
She also has a bill to list the synthetic opioid called U-47700, also known as "pink," as a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance.
That means "pink" cannot be used, possessed or distributed legally, McComas explained in an email.
Her fourth bill covers incorporating medical, dental, vision and prescription drug coverage as part of the health insurance portion of calculating child support payments.
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McComas also plans to work with Sen. Robert Cassilly on a bond bill to support the Maryland Center for the Arts in Harford County. Last winter, the legislature approved a $200,000 bond bill toward the project, planned at Wheel Road and Route 24 south of Bel Air.
McComas also said she plans to introduce a bill to create a redistricting task force "to inspire Maryland to end the current practice of gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts."
Cassilly's priorities for the session include supporting Hogan's efforts to "control spending, grow jobs and return to Harford County its equitable share of the gas tax revenue," according to an emailed statement.
An Army veteran, Cassilly's specific legislative goals include bills supporting deployed military members' parental rights limiting the amount of liability a service member must pay his or her landlord when breaking a lease because of change in station or extended temporary duty.
He also has a bill limiting the liability of employers sued for negligent hiring or failing to properly supervise employees on probation or convicted of a crime, if they have completed their jail sentence or probation.
Jennings has multiple goals related to the state's budget, paid sick leave, treatment of nonviolent juvenile offenders, combating rising prescription drug prices, reforming the state's bail system and addressing a "severe shortage" of beds for mental health patients in state facilities.
Jennings noted the thousands of bills before the General Assembly "will affect the lives of all Marylanders, and I feel a tremendous sense of pride and great responsibility as your representative in Annapolis."