AAA Mid-Atlantic applauds The Baltimore Sun in recognizing the importance of adequately funding and protecting Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) from raids by budget-balancing governors ("Transportation fire wall" Feb. 10). However, we are concerned that The Sun is suggesting that something less than permanent protection for the fund would suffice.
This year Gov. Martin O'Malley is yet again proposing to raid the fund to help balance Maryland's budget. While we understand the tremendous fiscal challenges facing our elected officials, we can not comprehend how in good faith Maryland citizens can be expected to pay more taxes and fees to support the TTF only to have those dollars then spent on non-transportation items.
Year after year, bills are introduced by legislators who see the need to protect the trust fund, and year after year those bills die as the legislative session comes to an end. This year, however, there is renewed energy surrounding transportation funding and firm protection of those funds.
New coalitions, such as the Statewide Transportation Alliance to Restore the Trust (START), a diverse group of representatives from the business and transportation communities, have called on the administration and lawmakers to stop raiding the trust fund. Numerous legislators have signed on to several pieces of legislation that will protect the fund by way of a constitutional amendment.
While some may believe a constitutional amendment is not warranted, history has taught us otherwise. In fact, as recently as 2008, only a few months after the General Assembly sent over $400 million in additional funding per year to the strapped fund during a special legislative session, legislators reached into what has now become commonly referred to as the state's most popular cookie jar to the tune of some $50-$75 million per year.
Maryland's transportation budget continues to be sorely underfunded. In fact, the recession has caused a six-year TTF reduction of $2.1 billion, according to START. Although federal stimulus dollars restored $600 million of those funds, there was still a deficit of $1.5 billion. A minimum of an additional $500 million per year is needed simply to maintain infrastructure and to address the growing backlog of transportation projects statewide. Nevertheless some $300 million is transferred each year to the General Fund from the TTF.
Clearly protection of the trust fund is needed. Legislation introduced by Sen. Robert Garagiola, Del. Susan Krebs and numerous co-sponsors would add an amendment to the Maryland constitution, which would protect and preserve the Transportation Trust Fund. If passed, the issue would go before the voters on the 2012 ballot.
AAA Mid-Atlantic supports these lawmakers who are committed to restoring Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund. If Maryland is to compete with surrounding states in our region, we can ill afford to neglect our state's roads and bridges any longer. We must restore the "trust" of the trust fund and in so doing regain the confidence from Maryland citizens that their tax dollars will be spent as they are intended.
Ragina C. Averella, Baltimore
The writer is public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic.