Rural counties need a transportation lockbox [Letter]

This fall, Maryland voters will have a constitutional amendment on the ballot of interest to all state residents, taxpayers and drivers: Question 1, which will create a "lockbox" for state transportation funds.

The amendment language states: "Transportation Trust Funds may be used for non-transportation related purposes or transferred to the general fund or a special fund only if the Governor declares a fiscal emergency and the General Assembly approves legislation, by a three-fifths vote of both houses, concurring with the use or transfer of the funds."

The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund was recently running on empty due to state leaders using this fund to balance state budgets and to address regular budget deficits. This resulted in a reduction of more than 90 percent of State Highway User Revenues (HUR) to county governments, totaling more than $1 billion in losses. This was a devastating budgetary cut for our residents, particularly in the rural jurisdictions. State HUR aid was a major portion of county highway budgets.

While lawmakers rightfully point out that most of the funding "borrowed" from the state's Transportation Trust Fund over the years was eventually repaid, the deployment of dedicated transportation funding for other uses nevertheless detracted from the state's ability to address infrastructure challenges.

This amendment if passed will allow the fund be protected by law from being raided simply to balance future budgets.

Voters will get our chance to make that the case when we cast our ballots in the Nov. 4 general election.

Maryland Rural Counties, a coalition of 11 rural jurisdictions (Allegany, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Kent, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico counties) representing more than 1.1 million Maryland rural citizens, notes that this isn't the most satisfying or protective language. However, future state leaders will have to make a very public argument that a genuine budgetary crisis exists and will require the members of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates through a super-majority vote to pass and then explain their position to their respective voters.

While this is not the best protection for Maryland drivers and taxpayers, we do believe this "lockbox" protection will be a positive step in the right direction to ensure future funding for Maryland's rural roads and transportation needs and urge voters to vote yes on Question 1 and thereby add an additional protection to Maryland's highway needs.

Mike McKay and Blaine R. Young

Mr. McKay is chairman of the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition and president of the Allegany County Commissioners. Mr. Young is founder of the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition and president of the Frederick County Commissioners.

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