The Maryland Transit Administration will have two distinct advisory committees on the proposed east-west Red Line through Baltimore after legislators voted early yesterday to override the governor's veto of their plan to appoint an oversight panel.
The governor has created his own panel by executive order.
The legislature overrode the veto of the bill - which creates a 15-member advisory panel largely chosen by General Assembly leaders and legislators from the affected districts - on mostly party-line votes in the Senate and House of Delegates. It was one of two transportation-related vetoes overridden during this week's special session.
The Red Line bill passed both houses by overwhelming margins during the regular 90-day legislative session. Last month, Ehrlich vetoed the measure and created his own advisory committee on the proposed Canton-to-Woodlawn transit line - all gubernatorial appointees - by executive order.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday that Ehrlich would not abandon his plan to create his own panel. "We've already got a group of citizen activists and community representatives who have agreed to serve," Flanagan said. "The happiest outcome will be that the two panels will work together and see eye to eye on what the issues are."
But the legislators who chair the House and Senate committees that recommended the overrides disagreed.
"It sounds dysfunctional," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Committee.
McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said she's concerned that the panel created by law will be marginalized. "That's kind of the signal [Ehrlich] is sending," she said. "The one that was created with legislative input has more community representation and will be much more credible."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, described the administration's action as "same-old, same-old political games."
The Assembly bill provides for 10 members to be appointed by legislative recommendation, two to be chosen by the governor or MTA, two by Baltimore's mayor and one by the Baltimore County executive. Both Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is hoping to replace Ehrlich as governor, and County Executive James T. Smith Jr. are Democrats.
"We had some concerns about whether that bill would lead to selections that would be political or partisan or not constructive," Flanagan said.
The Red Line is a top transit priority of Baltimore civic leaders. The MTA is studying whether to use light rail or enhanced bus service in the corridor. Flanagan has declined to include heavy rail - the favorite of some transit advocates - in the study because of the cost.
The other veto overridden by the Assembly yesterday involved a bill sponsored by Sen. E. J. Pipkin and passed unanimously by both houses that will increase the number of board members for the Maryland Transportation Authority and set higher requirements for expertise and diversity.
Ehrlich said he vetoed the bill because it "narrows the pool" of potential appointees, but many lawmakers said they suspected the governor's action had less to do with policy than payback. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, defied Ehrlich through the legislative session on the key issue of utility rates.
Middleton said the GOP senator told him the veto was a form of retaliation.
Flanagan denied that the veto had anything to do with payback. "That's not the way the governor operates," he said.