Senate Hearing Offers Encouragement on County Road Funding

Legislation to restore Highway User Revenues (HUR) to local governments received a positive hearing today before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.  SB 664, sponsored by Senators Edwards and Madaleno, was introduced at the request of MACo as an approach to reasonably restore HUR to local governments. For decades, local roadways were funded  as one of the modes of transportation receiving 30% of HUR.  This percentage has been reduced to 9.6%.

MACo Past President and Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt led the MACo panel discussing the fiscal challenges he has faced trying to accommodate these reductions while adequately funding other areas of county government. Wicomico County was receiving over $6 million in HUR in  FY 2009.  This has been reduced to slightly more than $500,000.  County Executive Pollitt stated:

…with additional revenue coming into the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), now is the time for local governments to again play a more significant role in the State’s transportation funding plan.

Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine followed, stating that in his county, funding went from approximately $4 million down to $400,000.  He also discussed the challenges of maintaining county roadways when faced with more severe winter weather and of raising revenue when you have a small population where the median household income is less than $39,000 a year.

Queen Anne’s County Public Works Director Todd Mohn also testified on the panel.  Queen Anne’s funding was cut in similar fashion to Allegany County.  Mr Mohn discussed the effects of these reductions on road maintenance and in his written testimony pointed out that this current winter season is an example of what happens when we defer routine maintenance for just a few years…POTHOLES EVERYWHERE!

MACo’s Legislative Director Andrea Mansfield sat on the panel to respond to technical questions.

In his comments, County Executive Pollitt also mentioned potholes.  At the conclusion of the MACo panel, Committee Chairman Edward Kasemeyer asked how much it would cost the counties represented to repair the potholes this winter.  County Executive Pollitt speculated that it would take most of his roads budget.

Representing the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) in opposition to the bill was Deputy Secretary Wilson Parran.  The Governor’s former Chief of Staff Matt Gallagher, who chaired the Local and Regional Transportation Funding Task, joined MDOT in opposition to the bill, citing the various options that local governments have to raise taxes and other revenues of their own to support road funding.

In response to MDOT’s testimony, Chairman Kasemeyer stated,

I understand HUR restoration was not included in the charge of the Task Force, but hearing the numbers, we ought to put some plan in effect…think about how we should do this.

Vice Chairman, Senator Nathaniel McFadden, echoed his comments.  He stated, “Can’t we come up with something to give some relief?”

Read MACo’s full testimony on SB 664.

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