Protecting the State’s Transportation Trust Fund

In an opinion piece in today’s edition of  The Gazette, Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund is examined in light of recent comments made by President Obama and U.S. Senator Cardin regarding the need for major infrastructure improvements nationwide. 

The 2009 Maryland Transportation Plan, a 20-year vision covering all means of transportation, included among its goals and objectives: Secure transportation assets for the movement of people and goods; maximize operational performance and efficiency of existing systems; provide balanced, seamless, and accessible multimodal transportation options for people and goods, and facilitate linkages within and beyond Maryland to support a healthy economy.

Given even those basic goals, it’s small wonder that a good many people — lawmakers, commuters, business interests, visionaries — are upset that the state’s Transportation Trust Fund has, once again, become the funding piñata of choice, as evidenced by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s latest budget proposal.

O’Malley’s spending plan, which was released Jan. 21, calls for redirecting $100 million from the already-depleted fund to help close the state’s budget deficit of well over $1 billion. If that wasn’t bad enough, in the past three years, more than $2 billion has been appropriated from the trust fund for other budgetary purposes.

…..

Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown says the trust fund needs between $400 million and $600 million in new revenue. In a statement, he summed up the importance of an ample trust fund: “Our state’s future economic growth and development depends on this vital funding.”

…..

For those who need reminding, the Transportation Trust Fund was created in 1971 as a dedicated source of support for the Department of Transportation and is required to maintain a $100 million balance. Its funding comes from the gas tax, vehicle titling taxes, vehicle registration charges and other fees.

Garagiola, with the support and Fry and other alliance members, is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would place the fund in a “lockbox,” so the dedicated money couldn’t be used elsewhere.

If the legislature gets behind a constitutional amendment, it would then go to the voters. There’s a heft behind a constitutional amendment that makes it difficult to undermine.

As a general observation, it would be nice if a lockbox approach weren’t needed. But given the importance of the Transportation Trust Fund and what it is meant to provide, a constitutional amendment might just be the road to traverse.

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