In a Baltimore Sun letter to the editor, MML President Spencer Scholsnagle and MACo President John Barr make the case for restoring state funding for local roads — and restoring motorists’ faith that their transportation tax dollars are being used for all their intended purposes.
Read the full letter below:
For over 70 years, Maryland has shared gas tax revenues and then vehicle registration fees with local governments to provide a predictable revenue stream that helped counties cities, and towns maintain their streets. When the Great Recession struck less than a decade ago, the state cut highway aid to local governments by 96 percent, using that money to support the state’s general fund. Baltimore experienced smaller percentage cuts, recognizing the fact that the city maintains roads that the state would normally maintain in other jurisdictions (“At MACo, Hogan promises road funding and ‘sympathetic ear,'” Dec. 10).
In response, local governments across the state cut back on or deferred road maintenance projects and transferred money from other local priority programs. More municipal governments raised local property tax rates than at any other time, according to available historical records. Counties, faced by state mandates to maintain school funding, had limited ability to shift within their own budgets.
While the state has since increased its local transportation funding stream, its commitment to local road maintenance is still dramatically less than it was for the better part of a century. The Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties have both worked to pass legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that would reinstate over time full road and bridge maintenance funding for the state’s local governments. A bill to begin the process passed the Senate and failed in the House of Delegates in 2016.
The economy of Maryland has returned to some semblance of normalcy. The state’s Rainy Day Fund is robust. The General Assembly was generous this year in providing additional funding to meet the needs of other jurisdictions and interests. Yet, shared transportation revenues lag badly — with cities at roughly 50 percent of their historic funding levels and counties at roughly 10 percent. The cumulative loss of local roadway investment is well over $2 billion. Simply put, no other component of the state budget has suffered reductions of this magnitude.
With the recession in the rearview mirror, we ask when will the state honor its long standing commitment to local governments and their citizens by enacting legislation to fully fund state transportation aid to counties, cities and towns?
Spencer R. Schlosnagle and John F. Barr, Annapolis
The writers are, respectively, president of the Maryland Municipal League and president of the Maryland Association of Counties.