Final Budget Plan “Flatlines” Local Roads and Bridges

In a surprise turn, the “final” budget being proposed to Senate and House members will have far, far less funding for local roads and bridges than either body had initially approved. Despite nearly universal bipartisan support for extra local road funding in both the Senate and House budget plans previously adopted, the conference committee’s final resolution will merely provide funds to continue last year’s meager distributions – including a substantial grant to municipal governments and a fairly trivial share for counties and Baltimore City.

Senate and House fiscal leaders, working as a conference committee to resolve details of the state budget plan, have opted to cut back all new FY 2017 funding for local roads and bridges. The Senate and House each retained the Governor’s proposed $53 million in “capital grants” funding sitting atop the still-depleted Highway User Revenues formula distribution. The conference committee opted to reduce that funding all the way back to match last year’s levels.

Edit: The final vote was taken in both chambers on Tuesday morning, and the budget was approved and enrolled. The Governor may not veto the budget bill itself.

The only additional funding allowed in the conference committee’s budget is a continuation of the extra funds provided in FY 2016 through a supplemental budget:

$19 million to cities and towns
$2 million to Baltimore City
$4 million distributed among 23 counties

This curious distribution continues a “hold harmless” policy established by a supplemental budget offered in FY 2016, shortly after Governor Hogan’s original budget was introduced: see previous Conduit Street coverage: New Local Roads Funding: $19M to Towns, But Only $4M Across 23 Counties

The General Assembly still has legislation governing the Highway User Revenue formula, but there is no indication of support for a long-term restoration of these funds, which have been diverted away from local governments since the depths of the “great recession.” A one-year distribution of $25 million – entirely to municipal governments – was passed by the Senate as part of a puzzling transportation package, but has yet to receive House attention. SB 585 is being heard in its House Committee on Thursday.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties