Hogan, allies mount counterattack on Democrats' transportation bill

The Hogan administration and Republican lawmakers mounted an all-out counterattack Tuesday against Democratic-backed legislation that would alter the way Maryland evaluates transportation spending projects.

At a news conference of elected officials, in statements by Gov. Larrry Hogan's office and in testimony by the state's transportation chief, the administration slammed the bill as a politically motivated dismantling of a smoothly functioning system for deciding which projects get funded in any year.


House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said during a news conference that the Democratic majority in the General Assembly was "trying to usurp the will of the people" in pushing for a bill that would create a scoring system for transportation projects.

"This bill is aimed at insulting the governor for what I believe are partisan political reasons," said Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican.


Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch announced legislation last month that they said would bring "transparency" to decisions such as which highway or transit projects should receive priority.

"It just states pretty plainly that you have to apply certain criteria to road projects so the general public understands how one project is chosen over another," said Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat.

Busch criticized the administration's transportation decisions, including the cancellation of Baltimore's Red Line, a call he said was made without a comprehensive transit plan for the city.

"I don't think they've been forthright or truthful in their presentation of the projects they wanted to fund to start with," he said.

Critics of the legislation charged that the scoring system would be biased in favor of mass transit, tilted against rural areas and would give safety factors insufficient weight.

The bill calls for rating each large proposed project on the basis of factors including safety, congestion relief, economic vitality, job access and environmental stewardship.

Republican delegates — joined by local GOP officials — bolstered their case with charts and news releases from the Governor's Office that alleged the scoring system devised by Democratic leaders would hurt almost every jurisdiction in the state.

The measure would be more of a speed bump than a stoplight in terms of restraining the governor's broad discretion in deciding which projects move forward each year. It would not bar the governor from choosing a lower-scored project over one that received a higher grade, but it would require him to explain his reasons.

However, Hogan and his Republican allies chose the bill — which follows a summer during which the governor shifted transportation funding toward highway projects — as one over which to make an especially fierce stand in protecting the prerogatives of his office.

Hogan's press office sent out a list of $1.6 billion in projects it announced last year that it said would have been rated poorly under the scoring system proposed in the bill.

"If the legislation currently being considered by the General Assembly to undermine the executive branch's authority to invest in much-needed, long-overdue infrastructure projects statewide had been passed last year, these current projects would have never seen the light of day," said a statement on Hogan's Facebook page.

Hogan's page also posted the names of the bill's sponsors — including Miller and Busch — with what it said was a list of projects it would "kill" in their home counties if the scoring system was in place. However, the projects are already in the state's Comprehensive Transportation Plan and wouldn't be affected.


In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn presented a pie chart showing that under the scoring system, Montgomery County would have received more than 96 percent of last year's transportation spending, with Baltimore receiving the rest and Maryland's remaining 22 jurisdictions receiving nothing. He said even transportation planners were surprised by the results, adding that he was sure the imbalance was not intended.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Maryland, questioned the credibility of the figure.

"I think that was absolutely an overplaying of the secretary's hand in order to scare and mislead the citizens," she said.


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