In just a few weeks, the Maryland General Assembly will convene for its 2013 session. As The Gazette appropriately argued in its Nov. 23 editorial (“Maryland has been down this road before”), this time around it is imperative that the legislature stops kicking the transportation funding “can” down the road once and for all.
If our legislators still need a reminder of how critical the situation has gotten, they need to look no further than to the state’s nearly 160 cities and towns that have received less than one-ninth of their designated share of state Highway User Revenues over the past four years. Instead of the $180 million they were programmed to receive during that time under the state funding formula, the cities and towns have instead been forced to divide just $19.6 million, which has resulted in crumbling infrastructure and backlogged projects in municipalities throughout Maryland.
For some of our cities and towns — particularly the smallest ones that depend so much on the availability of these state funds — the absence of these dollars has left them unable to support their most critical needs, including pothole repairs and snowplowing. Last year, the weather gave us an unexpected break, but all predictions for this winter indicate that we are not likely to experience a repeat of one of the mildest and most snow-free winters on record.
To make matters worse, because the Maryland Department of Transportation has had significantly less money for the past several years to spend on projects, the state Consolidated Transportation Program has not funded many municipal projects. Instead, most of the money in the CTP has gone toward large, expensive projects — such as the Intercounty Connector — as well as statewide transit and infrastructure maintenance and county transportation projects.
Over the past several very difficult years, critical needs such as education funding, school construction, job creation and smart-growth policy changes have all been addressed in some form. In some cases, these items have been funded as a result of a diversion of transportation funding. The obvious omission in these funding decisions has been a serious fiscal commitment to local transportation needs.
The transportation funding can has been kicked down the road for far too long. It is high time that local transportation funding moves to the front of the line as a state budget priority.
Judith F. “J” Davis is the mayor of Greenbelt and current president of the Maryland Municipal League, which represents the state’s 157 cities and towns, and two special taxing districts.