As the Senate is debating its revisions to the FY 2017 budget, and accompanying legislation, its plan for transportation funding has become clearer. The Senate plan strikes the funding included in the Governor’s budget to begin restoring Highway User Revenues, and instead provides a targeted one-year $25 million grant to municipal governments for FY 2018 only. The 23 county governments (who manage many more road miles than cities and towns) and Baltimore City (who has primary responsibility to maintain even the state roadways within its boundaries) are left out of this funding completely.
MUNI-ONLY GRANT EMERGES
The latest piece of this puzzle is in amendments to SB 585, brought to the Senate floor on Thursday. The bill was introduced as a full restoration of municipal-only Highway User Revenues, but amendments turn it into a special one-time FY 2018 distribution of $25 million, to cities and towns only.
The bill passed second reader Thursday, and will be before the full Senate soon for final passage. No parallel bill has received any House action.
HUR AMENDMENT DEFEATED
On floor debate Wednesday, Senators asked questions about budget actions removing the ability of the Governor to provide the extra “capital grants” funded in his budget. Senators’ questions focused on the deep cuts to Highway User Revenues in recent years – and Senator Ready offered an amendment to restore the Governor’s FY 2017 allowance, but failed on the floor.
In arguing against the HUR restoration amendment, Senator DeGrange agreed “Sure, we all want to see Highway User funds going to the counties and doing projects,” but then argued that restoring the funding would divert funds from the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP).
The Governor and Department of Transportation have indicated at budget hearings and in bill testimony that the current CTP was built with an allowance for a phased-in restoration of the Highway User Revenue funding, with the $53 million in the FY17 proposed budget representing the first installment of that pledge. This point was made on the floor, as Senator Cassilly asked “Doesn’t the CTP already reflect this money into Highway User Revenues?”
THE PATH AHEAD
The House is currently finalizing its own budget-related decisions, including the FY 2017 budget itself in the Appropriations Committee, and other legislation to restore formula funding in the Environment and Transportation Committee. The House priorities should become evident as soon as next week. The budget itself, and potentially other related legislation, will be resolved in a final conference committee reconciling differences between the two chambers.
MACo has adopted Highway User Revenues (HUR) as its top priority again in 2016, and has argued this as the largest fiscal issue between the state and its counties. During an early session briefing before the Budget & Taxation Committee, MACo President John Barr and Executive Director Michael Sanderson made the case for HUR restoration.