Transportation Task Force Considering Recommendations, Highway User Revenues

The Local and Regional Transportation Funding Task Force held its fourth meeting on November 4 to continue its discussion of options for funding and financing regional transit. The Task Force also held a work session to begin discussing issues to be included in the final report and a draft report outline.

The meeting began with a funding overview of locally operated transit systems, followed by presentations providing specific examples of value capture projects.  Presentations can be found on the Task Force’s website.

After a short break, the group resumed with a work session. Additional materials provided by MDOT staff to inform the work session included an overview of defining characteristics of regional transportation authorities, those which focus specifically on transit and those with broader authority, and more information on the local option revenues discussed at the prior meeting.

Much of the discussion focused on Highway User Revenues (HUR) and the need to include a recommendation in the final report on the restoration of HUR to local governments.  To help inform the discussion, MACo provided a follow-up letter to the Task Force reiterating its position on HUR, raising concerns with some of the local revenue options being discussed, and offering other options for the group to consider.  From MACo’s letter:

First, MACo would like to reiterate its position on Highway User Revenue (HUR). Local governments used to rely substantially on Highway User Revenues to maintain local roads and bridges – where more than 80% of the state’s road miles are a local responsibility. During the recent recession, the State was forced to slash this distribution by roughly $350 million per year – difficult cuts necessitated by a weak economy and State transportation fund shortages.

The transportation and economic crisis that forced these brutal cuts has passed. As we recover, it’s time for Maryland to restore its basic commitments. With replenished Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) revenues, we believe that reinstating a reasonable local share is essential. Understanding that the initial wave of new revenues have been allocated to specific projects and an immediate redistribution of funds could potentially delay announced projects, we believe an incremental phase-in of HUR back to local governments, as recommended by the 2011 Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding (BRC), is the most reasonable approach. Therefore, MACo requests that the Task Force consider reaffirming the BRC’s recommendation to incrementally return HUR to local governments.

Representatives from MACo and MML expressed their disappointment that much of the Workgroup’s discussion has focused on revenue options local governments could use to fund their own transportation projects, not a reasonable restoration of HUR.  Senator George Edwards reinforced this position by stating that he felt the final report should include a strong statement about HUR and specify that local governments should maintain their current level of funding and as funds become available in the State’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) through the elimination or delay of projects, these funds should be used to restore an appropriate level of local funding.

In response, Task Force Chair Matt Gallagher, stated in his view the final report needed to stay true to the group’s charge, but he felt the report could note the importance of HUR and suggest that the State needs to further explore how local governments could share in State transportation revenues. Mr. Gallagher also stated that he envisioned that local option revenues being discussed were just that, a local option.  The report should recognize that some jurisdictions would use them while others may not.

In closing, Mr. Gallagher stated that MDOT staff would work on a draft overview of these issues and circulate it for comment to ensure wording is appropriate.  The next and last scheduled meeting of the Task Force is scheduled for Tuesday, November 19 from 10 am to 1 pm.