The Montgomery County Council held a “Transportation Summit” in Annapolis on December 12 to focus on the need for investment in transportation projects statewide and advocate for a revenue increase in the upcoming session. Earlier coverage of the event can be found on Conduit Street.
Those in attendance included local officials and transportation advocates. As reported by the Washington Post:
“We can no longer afford to ignore this problem,” Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) told the gathering, lamenting unheeded calls in recent years to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for additional road and mass transit projections as congestion has continued to worsen. What’s needed now, he said, is “a huge infusion of cash.”
That view was largely echoed by the executives of Prince George’s and Howard counties, as well as the president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
The Department of Legislative Services’ Director of Policy Analysis also spoke during the event to provide an overview of the current funding situation.
On Wednesday, even Warren Deschenaux, the legislature’s nonpartisan chief fiscal analyst, acknowledged the funding situation is “quite dire” in a presentation he was invited to give at the “summit,” which was pulled together by Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal (D) and others.
After 2017, Deschenaux noted, the state has no money budgeted for any new highway construction. Ditto for construction of the three major transit projects that have gotten so much attention: the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, the Red Line in Baltimore and the Corridor Cities Transitway along the I-270 Corridor in Montgomery County.
While alternate means of financing have been discussed, the bottom line is that such projects will require significant increases in taxes or tolls, Deschenaux said.
However, passage of a transportation funding increase is uncertain. As reported by the Baltimore Sun (limited free views available):
Many lawmakers say there is little chance the result would be different if the governor were to return in January with a variation of either of the gas tax proposals. The resistance from their constituents is just too strong, they say.
Del. James E. Malone Jr., who represents Baltimore and Howard counties, shows how difficult passage of a transportation revenue package would be. He’s a Democrat, vice chairman of the subcommittee that oversees transportation policy and a self-described “big transit guy.” But he took a constituent survey last year and found his voters were “adamantly opposed to the gas tax.” He says his “gut feeling” is that their minds haven’t changed. The votes needed in the Assembly to pass a tax increase won’t be there, he says.
House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who supports increased transportation spending, said he’s doubtful that substantial new revenue can be raised. The best legislators may be able to do, he said, is hope that an improving economy produces enough new income tax revenue to yield a surplus, then use some of that money for transportation.