Maryland senators peppered the governor's acting transportation secretary with so many questions Monday night that his confirmation hearing will be delayed for a week.
A Senate panel voted to bring back Pete K. Rahn for another round next Monday, and in the process held up the nominations of four other Cabinet members put forward by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
For twice as long as any other Hogan nominee, senators quizzed Rahn on his background and future plans for the agency and its high-profile mass transit projects. They even questioned the way Hogan introduced him a month ago, as the "best highway builder in the entire country."
Rahn assured them the title did not define him.
"I'm not just a highway guy. I'm a transportation guy," Rahn said.
Rahn's nomination comes at a time when Hogan has proposed shifting more money to highways and ending automatic increases to the gas tax, a move that Democrats say could threaten several billion dollars in transportation projects in the pipeline.
Hogan is opposed to tying the increases to inflation and argues elected officials should have to vote every time a tax goes up.
Prospects for Hogan's gas tax plan are slim, as top Democrats who control the legislature say they are unlikely to repeal it.
They questioned Rahn at length about his views on major transit projects such as the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. Hogan has suggested the state may not be able to afford them.
Rahn told senators that "we're trying to figure out how we can deliver these projects," saying he requested a comprehensive review of how to build the projects for less.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore City Democrat, said she wanted to impress upon Rahn how important such projects — particularly the Red Line — are to the city's economic development.
"He has the ear of the governor, so he needs to make sure the governor understands," Pugh said. "We want give him a real clear message on what we need."
Sen. Jamie Raskin, chair of the executive nominations committee, said he has received a lot of information from fans of Rahn, who served stints as a transportation secretary in New Mexico and Missouri, and from his critics.
The critics, Raskin said, cite a controversial road project in northwestern New Mexico from 1997. Rahn helped create one of the country's first public-private partnerships and financed it with what was at the time a novel plan to borrow money against the promise of future federal funding.
The contract went to a subsidiary of Koch Industries that had never built a highway before. A clause in the warranty ultimately left the state on the hook for millions in repair costs
Rahn said afterward he expected questions on that project because it has followed him his entire career.
"It was controversial because it was new," he said.
Lawmakers also had more questions for Ben Grumbles, Hogan's nominee for secretary of the environment, who also will return next week. Grumbles and Rahn will be joined by three other nominees: Rona Kramer for the Department of Aging, Michael Gill for the Department of Business and Economic Development, and Kenneth C. Holt for the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer dismissed the significance of the delay.
"Governor Hogan has selected some of the best and brightest from Maryland and around the country to serve the people of our state," he said. "We have the utmost confidence that these talented and dedicated individuals will be confirmed."